Do You Have An Idol?

  • Why can't you forgive someone?
  • Why do you lie?
  • Why do you feel threatened?
  • Why do you get so angry?
The answer to these questions are related to idolatry. So, how can you tell if you have an idol?

The sign of idolatry is always inordinate anxiety, inordinate anger, inordinate discouragement when we lose our "idol" of choice. Idols are good things (family, achievement, work and career, romance, talent, etc) that we turn into ultimate things in order to get the significance and joy we need. Then they drive us into the ground because we have to have them. If we lose a good thing, it makes us sad. If we lose an idol it devastates us. Why?

We are functionally expecting our idol to do what only God is able to do. We are trying to find our joy, significance, hope, and security in something other than Christ. These "things"are functionally our god, our idol. If we try to achieve our sense of self by our performance (as we Christians might do with our work and ministry) then we are putting something in the place of Christ as a Savior. That is an ‘idol’ by definition.

We never break any of the 2nd to 10 commandments without first breaking the 1st commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." For instance:

  • Why can't you truly forgive someone who hurt you? It's because you're expecting that person to give you what only God can give you: love, honor, respect, approval, etc.
  • Why do you lie? It's because your reputation (I'm an honorable person), or your money or whatever is more foundational to your self and happiness than the love of God.
  • Why are so many so bothered inordinately with the economic recession? It's because they functionally regard their financial well being as the source of their security, rather than God.

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God is Man's Salvation (Isaiah 12)

Isaiah concludes chs. 6-12 by foreseeing the day when God's people will praise him for the abundant joys of his salvation.

God's salvation (Isa 12:1,2)

God was angry with his people when they rejected God (Isa 1:2-4), God's law and God's word (Isa 5:24,25). But "in that day, you will say: 'I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me'" (Isa 12:1). God's anger turned away was not on account of his people, but of his own initiative, based on his mercy and grace (Isa 6:6,7; 53:4-6). Only God's supernatural deliverance takes away our fear, and is our true source of strength, song and salvation (Isa 12:2,3).

Man's response (Isa 12:3-6)

Man's only appropriate response to God's salvation is to give praise and thanks to him with shouts of joy and exhilaration for all the glorious things that he has done for us. And we sing of God's greatness "among the nations" and "to all the world" (Isa 12:4,5). Because of God's gracious intervention, the sinner's greatest dread (Isa 6:3-5) becomes his ultimate joy.

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Paradise (Isaiah 11)

As Isaiah portrays God's destructive judgment as the felling of a vast forest (Isa 10:33,34), he portrays the Messiah as a shoot or twig growing from a stump remaining after God's judgment (Isa 4:2, 6:13, 53:2).

The Righteous Reign of the Messiah (Isa 11:1-5)

The Messiah, referred to as "a branch," will come from the house of Jesse, the father of David (Isa 11:1,10). This continues the theme of the coming heir of David, who is Immanuel--God with us (Isa 7:10-14), and a son (Isa 9:1-7). As David was empowered by the Holy Spirit (1 Sam 16:13), the Messiah is more richly endowed with a 3-fold fullness of the Spirit (Isa 11:2):

  • "wisdom and understanding" for leadership
  • "counsel and might" to carry out his wise plans
  • "knowledge and the fear of the Lord" for holiness
In sharp contrast with faulty human leaders including David, the Messiah will delight "in the fear of the Lord" (Isa 11:3a; Prov 1:7), and thus promote reverence among those he rules. Unlike human leaders who judge by what they see or hear (Isa 11:3b), the Messiah judges and decides by righteousness and justice (Isa 11:4,5; 2:4). Human leaders like strong and impressive people who will benefit them, but the Messiah treasures the poor and the needy who are generally despised or ignored.

No Predators but Peace when the Messiah Rules (Isa 11:6-10)

Stronger men oppress weaker men, just as predatory wolves go after docile lambs. But where the Messiah rules, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them" (Isa 11:6). This is so because when the Messiah reigns, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9).

The Messiah will recover the remnant of his people (Isa 11:11-16)

God's power, expressed as "his hand" (Isa 11:11,15), will gather in all his people--the "remnant of his people" (Isa 11:11,16), and no earthly power can prevent God from doing so. Even mighty enemy Assyria becomes an avenue for the salvation of God's remnant (Isa 11:16).

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7 Counterfeit Gospels

Counterfeit gospels are ways we try to justify and "save" ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. Paul Tripp, in his book, How People Change, identifies 7 counterfeit gospels (the quotes are mine):

  1. Formalism. "I faithfully participate in our church meetings. I'm judgmental and critical of those who are not as committed as I."
  2. Legalism. "I live by the rules I create for myself and for others. I'm upset with those who don't live up to the standards I set for them."
  3. Mysticism. "I constantly need an emotional experience with God. If I don't feel it, I'm discouraged."
  4. Activism. "I live for mission and I expect others to live for mission. I need to fix those who are not missional."
  5. Biblicism. "I'm critical of those who don't know the Bible well."
  6. Therapism. "I view hurt as a greater problem than sin, and I view Christ as more Therapist than Savior."
  7. Social-ism. "I replace fellowship with fellow Christians in church with fellowship with Christ himself."
I think that we default so easily to one of these counterfeits because of our sinful inclination to always depend on something else other than Jesus. We depend on our faithfulness, our rules, our feelings, our mission, our church, etc, more than Jesus, often without realizing it. The evidence is that we get quite angry and defensive when our counterfeit gospel idols are pointed out.

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FROG: Fully Rely On God (Isaiah 10:20)

God Judges the Corrupt in Israel (Isa 10:1-4)

The rulers of God's people imposed "unjust laws" and "oppressive decrees" upon the weak (Isa 10:1,2). God would one day judge and punish them in his anger through the hand of Assyria (Isa 10:3,4).

God Judges the Arrogant Assyrians
(Isa 10:5-19)
Although Assyria was only God's instrument to punish his people Israel (Isa 10:5,6), they thought that they conquered others by their own might (Isa 10:7-11, 13-15). God would punish the king of Assyria for their pride and arrogance (Isa 10:12), and Assyria would be reduced to near nothing (Isa 10:16-19). Assyria fell in 612 B.C.

God Preserves his Remnant (Isa 10:20-34)
God's anger and wrath toward his people Israel was for the sake of preserving from among them a remnant of those who fully rely on God [FROG] (Isa 10:20-23; Rom 9:27,28). Isa 10:20 says, "In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel." Even under God's heavy disciplinary hand, God's people can be confident in the promises of God (Isa 10:24-34).

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The "Order" of Redemption

This book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray, is an excellent book in the area of soteriology. Murray splits the topic into 2 parts: Redemption Accomplished, and Redemption Applied. In Redemption Accomplished, Murray covers the necessity, the nature, the perfection and the extent of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Redemption Applied, Murray covers the order of application of redemption's benefits, following which he covers each of the application more or less in their order of application (below).

A review which I agree with says that the best part of the book is part II Redemption Applied, chapter 1 (p. 79-87). The logical arguments for placing the various applications of redemption are impeccable, and done via deriving the order from first principles. Murray starts off with no order present, then slowly from the bottom up derive the logical and temporal order of each component with respects to the others through the teachings of Scripture. Such makes the chapter itself a valuable piece of theological apologetics indeed, which would be very helpful for Christians to see how the Reformed Ordo Salutis is created from scratch through deduction from the Scriptures alone. This section alone is well-worth the read, and mark this work as a classic indeed in Reformed theological works.

The accomplishment of redemption, or the atonement, is central to our Christian faith. It comprises a series of acts and processes. The order in the application of redemption (each with its own distinct meaning, function, and purpose in the action and grace of God) is as follows:

  1. Effectual Calling
  2. Regeneration
  3. Faith and Repentance
  4. Justification
  5. Adoption
  6. Sanctification
  7. Perseverance
  8. Glorification
This is another brief summary from Ligonier.


For to Us a Child Is Born (Isaiah 9)

Birth and Reign of the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:1-7)

By not trusting God, God's people experienced anguish and humiliation, darkness and defeat (Isa. 9:1), yet God himself would bring forth a great deliverance by shining upon them a great light (Isa. 9:2). God would restore their joy (Isa. 9:3) in 3 ways by breaking off all human oppression (Isa. 9:4), by bringing an end to war, and by the gift of a special son (Isa. 9:6), who is a descendant and the rightful heir of David's throne (Isa. 9:7), who will establish the kingdom of God "with justice and with righteousness." This son would be called by 4 names of God himself:
  • Wonderful Counselor: He is wise, unlike intelligent but foolish Ahaz.
  • Mighty God: As a warrior, God protects his people.
  • Everlasting Father: The benevolent Father and King cares for his subjects.
  • Prince of Peace: His government beings peace, not distress.
God's Anger with Israel's Arrogance (Isa. 9:8-10:4)
Pride and arrogance is the source of all the nation's disasters (Isa. 9:9). Because of their pride and arrogance to preserve and glorify themselves, God's "anger is not turned away" (Isa. 9:12,17,21,10:4; 5:25). The principle of retribution is an important biblical teaching. People reap what they sow, whether to destruction or benefit (Isa. 10:1-4; Gal. 6:7,8).

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God is the One to Fear (Isaiah 8)

What happens when we trust in man (Isa. 8:1-10)

The name of Isaiah's 2nd son, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa. 8:1,3), means "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil." It was prophetic of the swiftness of the Assyrian invasion and conquest. Instead of trusting in God's provision, symbolized by "the gently flowing waters of Shiloah" (Isa. 8:6), and "Immanuel" (Isa. 8:8), first Israel, then Judah, trusted in a man, the king of Assyria, to their own destruction.

What happens when we fear God (Isa. 8:11-15)
While God is a snare for those who do not fear God, he is "a sanctuary" (Isa. 8:14) for those who do, as God encouraged Isaiah: "The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread" (Isa. 8:13).

The difference between fearing and not fearing God (Isa. 8:16-22)
Those who don't fear God become distressed, hungry, famished, enraged, as they are thrust into utter darkness, while cursing and blaming God (Isa. 8:21-23), while those who fear and trust God become signs and symbols of the Lord even in the darkest time (Isa. 8:16-18).

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Immanuel (Isaiah 7)

Isaiah 7:1-9 "Be careful, keep calm, don't be afraid, do not loose heart"

When a coalition of Israel and Syria threatened to invade Judah (Isa. 7:1,2), God gave Ahaz, the king of Judah, a promise through Isaiah that they will not succeed (Isa. 7:3-9). Isaiah's son's name "Shear-jashub" means "a remnant will return." It is a promise of salvation to the faithful remnant believers among God's people. It suggests both judgment (God's people will be reduced to a remnant) and grace (that remnant will return). God wanted Ahaz to trust God and stand firm in his faith: "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (Isa. 7:9).

Isaiah 7:10-24 The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son

At this critical moment, Isaiah spoke to Ahaz to encourage him to ask for a sign from the Lord (Isa. 7:10,11) in order to put his firm faith in God. But Ahaz decided to trust the king of Assyria (Isa. 7:9), instead of trusting a far more reliable ally: "the Lord himself" (Isa. 7:14). He put his firm faith in a man, the king of Assyria, by giving him gold from the temple in order to induce him to attack Syria (2 Kings 16:1-9). Despite his stubborn refusal to trust God (Isa. 7:12), God gave him a sign of a virgin conceiving a son, which Matthew applied to the virgin birth of Christ (Matt. 1:23). The name, Immanuel, means "God is with us." God being with his people is a promise that God will help them fulfill their calling (Gen. 21:22; Ex. 3:12; Deut. 2:7; Josh. 1:5; Ps. 46:7, 11; Isa. 41:10).

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Whom Shall I Send (Isaiah 6)

God's grace leads Isaiah from "Woe is me!" (Isa. 6:5) to "Here am I!" (Isa 6:8)

Isaiah 6:1-7 Isaiah heard the angelic chorus: "Holy, holy, holy"

When Isaiah was confronted with the holiness of God in the temple (Isa. 6:1-4), he sensed his impending doom, and cried out, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isa. 6:5). Holiness implies absolute moral purity and separateness above the creation. When Isaiah had a deep sense of his own sin before the awesome holiness of God, his sins were atoned for (Isa. 6:6,7). Do I daily sense God's holiness and my sins?

Isaiah 6:8-13 Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord: "Whom shall I send?"

When Isaiah experienced the grace of forgiveness of his sins, he heard the cry of God's heart for his people, saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" (Isa. 6:8) God's message to his people through Isaiah was a message that would harden their hearts (Isa. 6:9,10). Isaiah was to proclaim God's message until God's judgment and discipline is satisfied (Isa. 6:11,12). But a remnant would be preserved and set apart for God (Isa. 6:13) by the same grace that saved Isaiah. They are the heirs of God's promises to Abraham, and thus the only hope for the whole world (see 10:20–23; 11:1–10).

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What More Could God Do? (Isaiah 5)

Isaiah chapter 1-5, the introduction to Isaiah, contain pronouncements of judgment and hope, where God mainly confronts Judah's sins and guilt (Isa. 1:1-31; 2:6-4:1), and gives her hope (Isa. 2:1-5; 4:2-6). Isaiah 5:1-30 concludes the introduction by condemning Judah with an unsparing assertion of her sins along with the devastating consequences. By comparing God's people to a vineyard which God tenderly cultivated (Isa. 5:1-7), God could not but lament in Isa. 5:4, "What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?"

Isaiah 5:1-7 (What More Could God do)
God loves his vineyard dearly (Isa. 5:1), doing all he can to to make it bountiful and fruitful, yet the result was dismal (Isa. 5:2-4). As a result, God could not but decree desolation upon it (Isa. 5:5,6).

Isaiah 5:8-30 (6 Woes and 4 "Therefores")
This section translates the metaphorical "wild grapes" (Isa. 5:2,4) into literal realities. The 6 "woes" lament the bitter fruits of Israel's character, and the 4 "therefores" anticipate the inescapable consequences. They are:

  • 1st "woe" condemns greed, those who "add house to house and join field to field" (Isa. 5:8).
  • 2nd "woe" condemns drunkenness, those who "run after their drinks"  (Isa. 5:11).
  • 3rd "woe" condemns those who mock and defy God as they sin (Isa. 5:18).
  • 4th "woe" condemns moral corruption, "those who call evil good and good evil" (Isa. 5:20), whose perspective are the opposite of God's true perspective.
  • 5th "woe" condemns pride and self-righteousness, "those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Isa. 5:21).
  • 6th "woe" condemns those who pervert justice, "who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent" (Isa. 5:22,23).
  • 1st "therefore" promises exile (Isa. 5:13).
  • 2nd "therefore" is "Sheol" - the grave - which portrays death as a terrible beast (Isa. 5:14) that devours anyone without regard to social class, both "those of high rank" and "the common people" (Isa. 5:13).
  • 3rd & 4th "therefore" (Isa. 5:24,25) announces God's action in sending a mighty army against Judah to conquer and leave the land in darkness and distress (Isa. 5:24-30)

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The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

"A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith."

When Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

What is justification?

The Westminister Shorter Catechism (17th century) defines justification as: "An act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone" (Q. 33). This is the basics of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide).

The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, "to declare righteous," rather than "to make righteous") was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else’s righteousness (i.e., Christ’s) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing. (Michael Horton, The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney: http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar81.htm)

How can a sinner be justified in the sight of God? He can only be justified if another man stands in his place and offers the perfect obedience, or righteousness, that God requires. This is what Jesus has done for the one who looks to him by faith. Jesus suffered the penalty of our sins throughout his earthly life culminating with his crucifixion on the cross. God the Father accepted Jesus' perfect sacrifice by raising him from the dead, securing the victory over sin and death. The sinner contributes nothing to his justification. The 19th century Scottish theologian and poet, Horatius Bonar, wrote, "Thy works, not mine, O Christ, speak gladness to this heart; they tell me all is done; they bid my fear depart."

It is by God's grace alone (sola gratia) that God justifies the sinner. God has every right to condemn the sinner, but he shows him mercy and shows him grace. Justification is through Christ alone (solus Christus), as it is the work of Christ--his life, death and resurrection--that serves as the judicial basis for the believer's verdict of righteousness. And the sinner is justified by faith alone (sola fide). In other words, it is never the obedience or good works of the sinner. Rather, it is that the sinner looks exclusively to the person and work of Christ to receive this verdict of righteousness rather than the verdict of condemnation that he deserves. These 3 points are the basics of justification by faith alone.

John Calvin, the 16th century 2nd generation reformer, explained that "unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God." It was for this reason that Calvin believed that justification was "the main hinge on which religion turns." It is no wonder that a 17th-century Reformed theologian, Johann Heinrich Alsted, one of the delegates to the Synod of Dort (1619), which gave us the “5 points of
Calvinism,” would later write that the doctrine of justification is the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, “the article upon which the church stands or falls.”

Briefly, justification is a legal or forensic term, belonging to the law courts. Its opposite is condemnation. Justification is not simply forgiveness and pardon, for justification is not just negative -- the remission of a penalty or debt -- but justification is also positive -- the bestowal of a righteous status, the sinner's reinstatement in the favor and fellowship of God.

If justification is not pardon, neither is it sanctification. To justify is to declare or pronounce righteous, not to make righteous. But although justification (a new status) and regeneration (a new heart) are not identical, they are simultaneous. Thus, every justified believer has also been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and so put on the road to progressive holiness. Calvin said, "No one can put on the righteousness of Christ without regeneration."

Only because of justification, do we receive and enjoy the following 6 fruits and results, which are more precious than anything else in the world.

  1. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

  2. We stand in grace (Rom. 5:2a).

  3. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2b).

  4. We rejoice in our sufferings (Rom. 5:3-8).

  5. We shall be saved (from the wrath of God) through Christ (Rom. 5:9,10).

  6. We also rejoice in God (Rom. 5:11).
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The Righteousness of God (Romans 1:17)

Three ways of understanding the "Righteousness of God" (The Theme of the Letter [Rom 1:16-17]by Douglas Moo):
  1. "The Righteousness that belongs to God" (God's attribute of absolute justice).
  2. "The Righteousness being established by God" (God's act of putting his people "in the right"). This comes closest to what Paul means in Rom 1:17.
  3. "The Righteousness that comes from God" (The righteous status that God gives us).
"Righteousness" Language
  1. Righteousness, justice (noun): δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē)
  2. Righteous, just (adjective): δίκαιος (dikaios)
  3. Justify (verb): δικαιόω (dikaioō)
Look at the OT to see how Paul might be using a word. How is God's righteousness used in the OT? Ps 50:4-6 expresses faithfulness to God's own character and purposes.
  • Vindication of the faithful (Ps 50:15).
  • Condemnation of the wicked (Ps 50:16-23).
Isaiah was particularly important to Paul. In Rom 3:21, Paul says that the righteousness of God is testified to by the OT. Isa 51:4-8 expresses eschatological vindication. Isaiah talks about a day to come when God's righteousness will appear. Somehow that righteousness is associated with salvation, for there is a parallel between righteousness and salvation in these verses.

In this light, God's righteousness aligns closest to #2 above of God putting his people "in the right." In the OT, God says in Isaiah to his people in exile that one day God will judge their enemies and vindicate them. God will establish them again "in the right." In Romans, this righteousness is not only for Israel, but for all who believe.

As in Rom 1:17c, Paul tends to put together often the language of "righteous" and "faith." It is not clear if "by faith" is attached to "righteous" or "live." Many scholars would prefer to translate (cf. the NIV) Hab 2:4 as "the one who is righteous by faith shall live."

(Hi Teddy, For your theological musing, as we had briefly touched on:)
The expression "righteousness of God" (Rom. 1:17), which has been discussed exhaustively throughout church history, is not easy to summarize or synthesize. John Stott explains the "righteousness of God" in 3 ways as:
  1. A divine attribute (describes God's character): Our God is a righteous God.
  2. A divine activity (describes God's saving intervention on behalf of his people): God comes to our rescue.
  3. A divine achievement: God bestows on us a righteous status, which:
    • God requires if we are to stand before him,
    • God achieves through the atoning sacrifice of the cross,
    • God reveals in the gospel, and
    • God bestows freely on all who trust in Jesus Christ.
In other words, "the righteousness of God" is at one and the same time
  1. a quality,
  2. an activity and
  3. a gift.
All 3 are true and have been held by different scholars. Stott doesn't see why all 3 should not be combined.

God Judges Men and Women (Isaiah 3); God Triumphs (Isaiah 4)

Isaiah 3:1-23, 4:1
God expresses his judgment on Judah and Jerusalem (Isa. 3:1,14) by striking both their men and their women. God deprived the nation of good male leadership (Isa. 3:1-15), and God chastised their women, who were oozing with their brazen indiscriminate sexuality (Isa. 3:16-4:1). Thus, their men were like wimps instead of men (Isa. 3:2-5), and their women were like noisy jingling ornaments (Isa. 3:18-23).

In the midst of rampant sin and God's devastating judgment on the nation, Isa. 3:10 says, "Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds." Though the righteous may suffer and the wicked prosper, it will only be in the short run.

Isaiah 4:2-6 (develops the bright hope of Isa. 2:2-4)
"The branch of the Lord" (Isa. 4:2) is the Messiah (Isa. 11:1-5, Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zec. 3:8; 6:12; John 15:1-8). Though his beginnings are unimpressive (Isa. 53:2), his rule will spread over the world, and his triumph will be beautiful and glorious. God himself will preserve a remnant (Isa. 1:9), and they will be the "survivors" (Isa. 4:2), and "will be called holy" and "recorded among the living" (Isa. 4:3). Only Jesus, through the cross, is able to cleanse and wash away our filth "by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire" (Isa. 4:4; Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:17). Recalling Israel's glory days (Ex. 13:21,22; 40:34-38; Num. 9:15-23), God's presence will be wonderfully manifest (Isa. 4:5; Rev. 7:15), and God's people will be forever protected from all distress (Isa. 4:6).

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6 Ways God Loves Us (Isaiah 1:1-31)

How God Loves Impossible Incorrigible Sinners (Isa 1:1-31; 1:18)
  1. God indicts (Isa 1:1-4)
  2. God preserves (Isa 1:5-9)
  3. God rejects (Isa 1:10-17)
  4. God appeals (Isa 1:18-20)
  5. God avenges (Isa 1:21-25)
  6. God redeems (Isa 1:26-31)

God Will Establish His Kingdom (Isaiah 2)

Isaiah 2:1-5
God's Purpose will Triumph for his People. Isaiah 2:2-4 is almost identical to Micah 4:1-3. In the last days, God will establish himself as "the highest of the mountains" (Isa. 2:2). This depict the coming of all people (both Jews and Gentiles) to Zion (Isa. 2:3). This was inaugurated through the coming of Christ and the preaching of the gospel, and will be consummated at his 2nd Coming. By a miraculous magnetism, a river of humanity will flow uphill to worship the one true living God (John 12:32).

Human authority causes war and discord, discouragement and disillusionment, despair and distress. At best one may be a benevolent dictator. But when the Messiah reigns, "he shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples" (Isa. 2:4). There is peace and joy only when no mere human authority but the Lord Jesus himself judges between people and nations. Isaiah's invitation is "come, let us walk in the light of the Lord." "Light" stands for God's presence, blessings and revelation. Otherwise, we live in the darkness of separation from God (Isa. 5:30; John 3:19,20).

Isaiah 2:6-22
Man Prefers Anything but God. Despite God's glorious hope and vision for the future, the present reality is quite staggeringly opposite. What was their problem? Instead of trusting God, they trusted in things (silver, gold, treasures, idols) and in themselves (horses, chariots) (Isa. 2:6-8). But God will not be denied, for the "splendor of his majesty" (Isa. 2:10,19,21) will always be exalted (Isa. 2:17).

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Isaiah Outline; Intro; "Come, Let's Chat" (Isaiah 1)

Pictorial Overview: Chart of the Book of Isaiah.

Outline/overview of Isaiah (loosely adapted from Ortlund, McArthur):

  • Isa 1-5: God indicts his people for their sins (Judah)
  • Isa 6-12: God reveals grace through judgment for his people
  • Isa 13-27: God reveals judgment and grace for the world
  • Isa 28-35: God pronounces woe to worldly alliances
  • Isa 36-39: Good & bad Hezekiah; God alone is good, and is man's only hope
  • Isa 40-55: Comfort for God's exiles: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed"
  • Isa 56-66: How to prepare for the coming glory: "Hole fast my covenant"
[The prophesies of ch. 1-39 addressed Judah in her situation during Isaiah's ministry (739 B.C. - 686 B.C.). The prophesies of ch. 40-66 address Judah as though the prophesied Babylonian captivity (Isa 39:5-7) were already a present reality, though the captivity did not begin until 605-586 B.C. ]

Isaiah may be divided into 3 sections, where each section focuses on/addresses:

  1. (Isaiah 1-39) God's judgment on Israel by Assyria (740-700 B.C.)
  2. (Isaiah 40-55) the exiles in Babylon (600-539 B.C.)
  3. (Isaiah 56-66) the remnant after her return from Babylon (539-500 B.C.)
Outline of Isaiah (John MacArthur):

  1. Judgment (1-35)
  2. Historical Interlude (36-39)
  3. Salvation (40-66)
Outline of Isaiah (ESV Study Bible - Ray Ortlund)
  1. Introduction: "Ah Sinful Nation" (1-5)
  2. God preserves a remnant for his people through grace: "Your guilt is taken away" (6-12)
  3. God's judgment and grace for the world: "We have a strong city" (13-27)
  4. God's sovereign word to the world: "Ah" (28-35)
  5. Historical transition: "In whom do you now trust?" (36-39)
  6. Comfort for God's exiles: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed" (40-55)
  7. How to prepare for the coming glory: "Hold fast to my covenant" (56-66)
Brief Intro: The central theme of Isaiah is God himself, who does all things for his own sake. Isa. 48:11 says, "For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another." When God called him, Isaiah discovered to his dismay that God was not sending him to save Israel but to harden their unrepentant hearts (Isa. 6:9,10). But he calls the godly to seek the Lord, to hope for God's kingdom, to experience God's peace within, and to respond with faith to God's new acts of redemption. In the end a godly remnant will survive the judgment (Isa. 6:13).

  • Isaiah means "The Lord is salvation" (similar to Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus).

  • Isaiah is quoted > 65 times, far more than any OT prophet, and mentioned by name > 20 times.

  • He is married, has 2 children (Isa. 7:3, 8:3), and according to tradition was martyred by being sawn in 2 (Heb. 11:37).

  • He ministered for ~40 years from 740 B.C. (Isa.6:1 - the year King Uzziah died) till after 700 B.C. (37:38 - death of Sennacherib). The kings who ruled in Judah during that time: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isa. 1:1). It was an era of great political turmoil due to Assyrian imperialism.
  • Since Isaiah prophesied during the period of the divided kingdom, he directed the major thrust of his message to the southern kingdom of Judah.

  • Also known as the "evangelical Prophet," Isaiah spoke much about the grace of God toward Israel, particularly the last 27 chapters (Isa. 40-66). The centerpiece is Isaiah's unrivaled chap. 53, portraying Christ as the slain Lamb of God.
The first section of Isaiah (chap. 1-5) is the introduction, where Isaiah rebukes the people of God in order to place them under the judgment of God's word. His lament is "Ah, sinful nation" (Isa. 1:4).

Isa. 1:2-2:5 is a microcosm of the book's message, where the Lord announces his basic charge against the people: they have received so much privilege from God and ought to be grateful children, but instead "they have despised the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 1:2-4). His indictments are to bring them to repentance, or to preserve a remnant who will repent (Isa. 1:5-9). But the people seemed very faithful in keeping their religious traditions, yet their hearts were far from God, as evidenced by their unwillingness to protect their own weakest members (Isa. 1:10-20, 23). Yet, God appeals to them: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isa. 1:18).

The Lord called his people to be the embodiment of faithfulness in this world. Yet they were filled with rampant unfaithfulness at every level--personal, religious, social (Isa. 1:21-31). Despite his people's hard unrepentant hearts, God himself will fulfill his own purpose through those who would commit themselves to "walk in light of the Lord" (Isa. 2:1-5).

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Truly Love (Hebrews 13)

Concluding Exhortations, Application for the Christian Community:

  1. Keep on loving one another (Heb. 13:1; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:17; 3:8; 2 Pet. 1:7; 1 John 3:10; 4:7,20,21)
  2. Show hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13:2; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:9)
  3. Remember imprisoned believers (Heb. 13:3; 10:32-34; Matt. 25:35,36)
  4. Keep the marriage bed pure (Heb. 13:4)
  5. Be free from the love of money, be content (Heb. 13:5,6; Josh. 1:5; Ps. 118:6; 27:1; 56:4,11)
  6. Remember, obey, imitate the faith of leaders (Heb. 13:7,17)
  7. Always remember Jesus, our ultimate leader and head (Heb. 13:8)
  8. Be strengthened by grace (Heb. 13:9-12; 2 Tim. 2:1)
  9. Go to Jesus, expect reproach (Heb. 12:2,3), seek the eternal city (Heb. 13:13,14; 11:14-16)
  10. Offer praise (Heb. 13:15), and prayer (Heb. 13:18), not just with lips but deeds (Heb. 13:16)
  11. Earnest do so (Heb. 13:19)
  12. Benediction (Heb. 13:20,21)
  13. Final greetings (Heb. 13:22-25). "Grace be with all of you" (Heb. 13:25).

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Are You Growing? (Hebrews 12)

Briefly, Hebrews chapters 1-10 expounds on the superiority of Jesus, and exhorts Christians to persevere in the faith. Chapter 11 gives example after example of believers who have gone before us, who despite tremendous hardships and trials, persevered to the end. So, Hebrews 1-10 says, "Stay with Christ," and Hebrews 11 says, "Look at those who did."

Hebrews 12 is again another exhortation in light of everything that has been said so far, so that we may be sanctified and grow. How?

  1. Throw off sin that so easily entangles (1) -- the sin of legalism by depending on the law of Moses.
  2. Run with perseverance (1)
  3. Fix our eyes on Jesus (2)
  4. Consider Jesus who endured hostility (3)
  5. Know that our struggle against sin has not shed our blood (4)
  6. Embrace God's painful discipline as His deepest love for us (5-13)
  7. Strive for peace with everyone, for holiness, for the grace of God (14-17)
  8. Fear God who is a consuming fire (18-29)

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Faith is Confidence and Assurance (Heb. 11:1)

Heb. 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Biblical faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. It is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable "leap in the dark." But it is a settled confidence that something in the future--something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God--will come to pass because God will bring it about. It is a confident trust in the all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, and whose promises have proven true. Faith in the unseen realities of God is repeatedly emphasized (Heb. 11:3,7,8). Only faith enables one to please God (Heb. 11:6), and to joyfully persevere and not shrink back from following and loving Jesus (Heb. 10:39).

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Christian Community is Crucial (Heb. 10:22)

In contrast to the repeated Mosaic animal sacrifices, Heb. 10:1-18 shows that Jesus came into the world according to God's will to eternally sanctify a people through offering himself once for all. Therefore, only because of what Jesus has done on the cross on our behalf, "we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19; 4:16).

With this bold confidence grounded in the work of our great High Priest Jesus (and not in any merits we possess), Heb. 10:22-25 says, "22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Practically, we draw near to God, not solo, but in Christian community. We "exhort one another every day" (Heb. 3:13), and "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24), and we do not give up "meeting together" (Heb. 10:25). This is our best safeguard to keep us from deliberately sinning, shrinking back, and to continue in the faith (Heb. 10:26-39).

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Christ Cleans Our Conscience (Heb. 10)

Heb. 9:1-10 briefly describes the tabernacle (Mosaic worship), to which some 50 chapters of the OT are devoted. This is the 1st covenant which did not work, and was not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper (Heb. 9:9; 10:2). Heb. 9:11-28, in contrast to the 1st covenant, the new covenant high priesthood of Jesus provides a single superior sacrifice in a heavenly tabernacle (which stands for God's very presence) (Heb. 9:23-26); and thus it brings complete forgiveness of sins, eternal salvation (Heb. 9:12), purified consciences (Heb. 9:14), and direct access to God (Heb. 4:16; 7:25; 10:22).

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5 Rules for Life Together in Christ

The apostle Paul's 5 guidelines on how to best use our Christian freedom (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1):
  1. Do all for the glory of God (31) - not insisting on my freedom.
  2. Try to please everyone in every way (33) - not claiming my rights.
  3. Seek the good of many (33) - not my benefit or fulfillment.
  4. Seek that many may be saved (33) - not be preoccupied with myself.
  5. Follow the example of Christ (11:1) - not concerned about my reputation.
1 Cor. 10:31-11:1 (NIV) says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."

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All God's Methods are Most Reasonable even when God Permits us to Sin

"Don't be objecting and finding fault about man's fall, and arguing in your own mind against the justice of God in so ordering and permitting of it. And don't murmur and quarrel with God about your own particular sins, because God did not restrain you. Consider how you have willfully, and of your own free choice and without any manner of compulsion, done those things that you know God had forbidden, and that he warned and exhorted and counseled you against, and humble and abase yourself, cast yourself down as in the dust, and own that nothing but the wrath and vengeance of that holy Being you have offended is your due." , "All God's Methods Are Most Reasonable"


The New is Superior to the Old Covenant (Heb. 8)

Hebrews 8-10 declares the superiority of Jesus priestly ministry:
  • through a better covenant (Heb. 8:1-13)
  • in a better sanctuary (Heb. 9:1-12)

  • by a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:13-10:18)
Jesus is the High Priest of a better covenant, for he is the eternal ultimate high priest ministering from heaven in a better heavenly tabernacle/sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-6).Jesus' new covenant is better, because it is able to do what the old covenant--the law--couldn't (Heb. 8:7-13). Even though the law was "holy, righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12), it could not itself empower obedience (Rom. 7:18,19), as the quotation from Jer. 31:31-33 makes clear.

How does the new covenant work? Heb. 8:10 says, "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Unlike the law's sacrifices, Jesus' death cleanses the conscience (Heb. 9:9-14), so that we do the will of God (Heb. 10:36; 13:21). Heb. 8:12 says, "I will remember their sins no more." The sacrifices according to the law were an annual reminder of sins (Heb. 10:3). Only Jesus' offering and sacrifice of himself brings forgiveness, holiness and perfection once for all (Heb. 10:10,13,18).

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A Necessary Change for Something Better (Heb. 7:1-28)

Melchizedek priesthood superior to the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:1-10). All priests in Israel were only from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 7:5). But Jesus belonged to a different priesthood, that of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-3), the mysterious figure from Gen. 14:18-20 (Ps. 110:4), who blessed Abraham and received his tithe, meaning that he was superior while Abraham and all his descendants, including the priesthood of Levi, was inferior (Heb. 7:4-10).

Only Jesus is Able to Save to the Uttermost/Completely (Heb. 7:11-28). Why did God establish a different priesthood from the one he established through Levi? It's because perfection was not attainable through the Law that came from the Levitical priesthood, thus necessitating the need for another priest, one in the order of Melchizedek -- Jesus -- who was descended from Judah (Heb. 7:11-14), and who is a priest forever because of his resurrection from the dead (Heb. 7:15-17).

What's wrong with the Law? In perfecting sinful man, it was weak and useless, for only through Jesus priesthood are we able to be brought to perfection and to draw near to God (Heb. 7:18,19). Jesus is the "guarantor of a better covenant," for since Jesus lives forever through his resurrection, his priesthood is permanant, while all former priests eventually died in office (Heb. 7:22-24). Heb. 7:25 says, "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." Thank God for Jesus who is continually interceding on our behalf before the throne of God. Only Jesus is able to do so, because only Jesus, our high priest, is "holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners," and because only Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 7:26-28).

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Forward or Destruction; No Third Option (Heb. 6)

The Doctrine of Perseverance (Heb. 6:1-12). Heb. 6:1 says, "...let us...go on to maturity." To do so, we should "leave the elementary doctrine (teaching) of Christ" (Heb. 6:1-3). Otherwise, the author warns of certain apostasy/destruction/falling away (Heb. 6:4-8). Some think this passage means that a Christian, who was once saved, can lose their salvation. That's not the case, because those whom God has truly saved will persevere in faith to the end (John 10:28,29; Rom. 8:28-30).

God's Promise is Certain (Heb. 6:13-20). "When God made a promise to Abraham" (Heb. 6:13), God had to swear by Himself, because there was no one higher than God to swear by (Heb. 6:13-18; Gen. 22:16,17). Therefore, our Christian hope is not in some vague wishful fantasy or positive thinking based on nothing, but in the Person and Saving Work of Christ, our high priest (Heb. 6:19,20). This is the only reason why we Christians are able to confidently "take hold of the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18), and why "we have this hope as an anchor of the soul, firm and secure" (Heb. 6:19). In brief, our hope does not at all stem from ourselves, but from what Christ has done for us.

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Jesus Obeyed First, We Obey Next (Heb. 5:8,9)

Draw Near the Throne of Grace with Confidence (Heb. 4:16-5:10). Nobody likes to feel that he has to prove something to others, or prove anything to anyone. But Jesus, though He is God, subjected himself to all the limitations of the flesh as our high priest (Heb. 4:14,15; 5:4-6). He willingly choose to "prove" by his tearful prayers (Heb. 5:7), sufferings and obedience in human flesh culminating in the cross, in order to pave the way for our salvation (Heb. 5:8,9). Only because of what Jesus has done, are we able to come to him with confidence (Heb. 4:16). Only because Jesus obeyed unto death, are we able to obey (Heb. 5:9).

Spiritual Immaturity (5:11-14). The Christians were weak and in danger of apostasy because they were immature. The maturity needed to understand Jesus' priestly sacrifice is not intellectual sophistication, but spiritual discernment arising from consistent obedience to God's will (Phil. 1:9-11).

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Our Faith is Already, But Not Yet (Heb. 4:1-16)

We Christians are like we're already the Mona Lisa--the greatest painting in the world--but not yet fully the Mona Lisa. Sorry for this corny illustration!

Strive to Enter God's Rest
(Heb. 4:1-13). Have we Christians already received God's rest? Or are we yet to receive God's rest in the future? Heb. 4:1-13 answers "Yes" to both. Our rest is already inaugurated, but still awaiting consummation. We live in the time between Jesus' ascension and His 2nd Coming. Until that glorious day, we live in the humble confident state of "Already, But Not Yet." Because our present life is "Not Yet" and looks to the future, we need to continue to strive to enter God's rest (Heb. 4:1,11,14). Yet, because it is simultaneously "Already" we have the sure promise of the cessation from all the struggles of this life (Heb. 4:9,10). It is when we screw up this "balance," that our Christian lives become weird, even ugly: either blindly overconfident, arrogant, and triumphalistic, or despairing and defeatist with a victim's mentality--both leading to failure, unbelief, disobedience (Heb. 4:6,11). But with proper balance, God, by his grace alone, enables us to be both bold and humble simultaneously. We are boldly confident because we are already the Mona Lisa. Yet, we are truly humble because we are a bald Mona Lisa!

For proper balance, we need the Word of God. Heb. 4:12,13 say, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." We, in our sins, can't balance ourselves. But God Himself, through His Word, constantly exposes our innermost thoughts and intentions. Our total dependency must be on God's absolute authority (Pro. 3:5,6) expressed through His word.

Tempted, Yet Without Sin - Jesus the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16). To serve as high priest on behalf of humanity, Jesus must be human (Heb. 2:17). He had to satisfy God's wrath and make propitiation for our sins by being the atoning sacrifice in our place. Our confidence in "holding firmly" (Heb. 4:14,16) to our faith, is that Jesus is not foreign to any temptation that entices us (Heb. 4:15).

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Exhort One Another Every Day (Heb. 3:13)

Heb. 3:1-10:18 is an exposition of how Jesus is superior/greater than the Mosaic Law - superior to Moses (Heb. 3:1-4:13); superior to Aaron (Heb. 4:14-7:28); and that the priestly ministry of Christ {covenant, tabernacle, blood, sacrifice} is superior (Heb. 8:1-10:18).

Jesus is Greater than Moses (Heb. 3:1-6).

The Failure of the Exodus Generation (Heb. 3:7-19). In contrast to Moses' faithfulness (Heb. 3:1-6) in leading his people in the desert, the people failed to respond to the Holy Spirit; they hardened their hearts, provoked God, and experienced God's wrath (Heb. 3:7-11). It was because their "evil, unbelieving heart" led them to "fall away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12).

In light of their failure and rebellion, Heb. 3:13 says, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." This is the 2nd of 6 warnings/exhortations in Hebrews. Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Sin lies and deceives (Rom. 7:11; 2 Thess. 2:10; Jas. 1:14-16). Satan is crafty (Gen. 3:1). Only by God's grace, we "share in Christ" and "hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Heb. 3:14). And practically we need individual and corporate accountability and responsibility to "exhort one another every day." Then the author repeats his warning again not to harden their hearts (Heb. 3:15), by reminding them of the rebellion, disobedience, and unbelief of their forefathers in the exodus generation, and the tragic consequences (Heb. 3:16-19).

It is always good to find one or more to exhort us, and also good for us to personally exhort fellow believers (Heb. 3:1; Eph. 4:15).

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Don't Drift (Heb. 2:1-18)

1st of 6 warnings in Hebrews: Don't drift/neglect such a great salvation (Heb. 2:1-4). Heb 2:1 exhorts/warns us Christians to "pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." What have we heard? We 1st heard "the message declared by angels," which is the law of Moses, and which is still binding, and leads to retribution and punishment to those who sin and disobey (Heb. 2:4). But now we're heard the gospel proclaimed through Christ, which is surely the greater salvation (Heb 2:3), and which God has attested to "by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will" (Heb. 2:4).

Surely, the Christian life is repeatedly fraught with temptation, distraction, discouragement, disillusionment, persecution, betrayal, etc. We want to be in charge or in control, to give up, give in, be in our comfort zones, go on cruise control, live at ease, blame others, etc. But what we should do is to never neglect or drift from the gospel of "such a great salvation" (Heb. 2:3).

Only Jesus is the Founder of Salvation for only He is fully God and fully Man (Heb. 2:5-18). Though Jesus is God, and greater than the angels, he was made "lower than the angels...because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). Without knowing the grace of One who tasted death in our place, our faith can always easily falter and drift.

Heb. 2:14,15 explains that a human Savior was necessary, because human beings are in need of a propitiatory (satisfying God's wrath) sacrifice and a sympathetic high priest (Heb. 2:17,18). Praise Jesus who willingly tasted the hell and death that we fully deserve, so that he could be our great salvation.

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