Posts Tagged 'temptation to sin'

HEBREWS, Part 4

The One True Man, 2:10—18

The teacher so far in his letter to the Hebrews, has given two reasons for the Incarnation. First, the Son of God became the Son of Man in order to restore man’s original purpose as the ruler of his domain. The first Adam failed in this purpose, and therefore no human being since has been able to fulfil Genesis 1:26—

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

When Jesus came as the Second Adam, He did not sin; He succeeded where the first Adam failed, therefore, in time, God’s original purpose for man will be restored.

The second reason for the Incarnation was so that the Savior could taste death one time for all men. Jesus would die the kind of death reserved for all sinners so that redeemed sinners would never have to experience it.

The third reason for the Incarnation is given in verses 10—13: He came so that He might bring many sons to glory.

1. Jesus and His family, 2:10—13

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,

I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

And again, I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says, Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

In verse 9, the author stated that Jesus suffered the pains of death for everyone. In verse 10, he describes precisely who “everyone” includes: sons and daughters, the saved. It may seem odd that something is described as being “fitting” for God to do, but the way of salvation is not arbitrary, but totally befitting the character of God. Since all things were created for Him and since through Him all things exist, then it makes sense that God would do anything in keeping with His character to save what He has created. Therefore, all the sufferings and humiliation of His Son did not take happen by chance; they, in fact, proceeded from His eternal purpose for man.

It’s important to note that the subject of verse 10 is God. The plan of salvation was His. It was not Jesus’. The suffering and death of Jesus was not the Devil’s idea. It was God’s.

Jesus is referred to “the pioneer” of our salvation. The ESV calls Him “the founder” of salvation, and the KJV says that our Savior is “the captain” of our salvation. What does this say about Jesus? Simply this: Jesus went ahead of us. God made Him experience awful suffering to bring about our perfection. It was God’s will for Him to suffer in order to bring about the salvation of “many sons and daughters.” When the Son completed His assigned task, He became the founder of our salvation. He alone was given the responsibility of leading the elect out of a life of bondage to sin to a life of eternal happiness. Or, as Theodore Epp once wrote:

Christ was not content to be crowned alone with glory and honor; He desired to bring many to share His glory with Him.

The “perfection” the writer refers to does not mean that Jesus was ever imperfect and that His work made Him perfect. It simply means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, completed His work. The eternal purpose of the Incarnation was finally accomplished.

In verse 11, the writer to the Hebrews links the Savior to those He came to save. It was God’s eternal purpose to identify as many sons and daughters with His Son in glory; and through the great Incarnation of the Messiah, He so identified Himself with mankind that He could consider them HIS brothers and sisters.

But this incredible union between the saved and their Savior is not something new to the New Testament! In another stroke of genius, our teacher quotes a couple of Old Testament verses that actually anticipated the glorious Incarnation:

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22)

I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:17, 18)

The quote from Psalm 22 is a direct reference to the Messiah, and the two quotes from Isaiah are indirect references. In those verses, the prophet Isaiah identifies himself with the very people who have rejected the Lord and rejected him as a messenger from the Lord. Isaiah chooses to identify himself with his people in spite of their rebellion. The writer to Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes Isaiah’s verses about himself as a foreshadow of Christ’s identification with people, sinners, who are in rebellion against God.

2. Jesus’ 6-fold purpose, 2:14—18

Jesus not only identified Himself with human beings in the Incarnation, but He managed to accomplish no less than six significant things.

a. To destroy the devil, 2:14

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a divine judgment on Satan. But make no mistake about it, this world and the world system is, at this present time, Satan’s territory. Remember, we have not been restored to our original purpose yet. Ever since the Fall, mankind has been living on Satan’s land. He is the prince of the power of the air, the god of this age. He is a defeated foe, but he is still on the loose, “seeking whom he may devour.”

This is why any and every worldview apart from a biblical worldview ultimately opposes the plans and purposes of God. This is why believers, when they live lives wholly committed to Jesus Christ, sometimes feel out of place on this earth. Christians, for the time being at least, are “strangers in a strange land,” often living under hostile rule.

But this verse makes it plain: Satan has been defeated by Jesus Christ. He has not been annihilated, but his power was broken—annulled, legally canceled. The Incarnation actually lured Satan into defeating himself by using own weapon! By killing Jesus, the Devil forfeited all his legal rights, for he killed the only One he had no claim on, the only One who had never sinned. And by His resurrection, the power of death was decisively broken. The first Adam gave Satan the advantage by selling the human race into slavery to Satan. The glorious Second Adam overturned Satan’s advantage and He rescued the human race from its slavery.

b. To deliver those in bondage, 2:15

...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

In human experience, man’s fear of death is related to Satan’s power of death. With the end of Satan’s power, comes the end of man’s fear of death. And this is such a pitiful kind of bondage. It causes man to do all kinds of strange things to try and extend or preserve his puny life. But because Jesus Christ is able to deliver all people from all judgment, He can remove the fear of death. Anybody who has ever experienced the New Birth has an assurance that at the very moment of physical death, they will be ushered into the presence of the Savior. The apostle Paul described the Christian’s conundrum like this:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6—8)

c. To become our great High Priest, 2:16, 17a

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God…

The Incarnation was essential, not only so Jesus could become the Savior of all mankind, but so that He could become a High Priest for those He came to save. As a Savior, He delivers us from the power of Satan; as a High Priest, He delivers us from the condemnation of God.

A priest is a mediator between God and man; he represents God before men and represents men before God. Since Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He is eminently qualified to represent God before men. And as the Son of Man, through the Incarnation, He is eminently qualified to represent men before God!

Because our Savior is the perfect Son of God and the perfect Son of Man, He is completely merciful because He understands the pain, the miseries and the temptations all men face because He Himself faced them in their full intensity. And He is a faithful representation of God; He is able to manifest God’s perfect faithfulness to us.

So the Incarnation was absolutely necessary to provide the kind of High Priest we needed to represent us in our desperate need before God.

d. To make propitiation for sins, 2:17b

that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

The phrase “make atonement” may not be the best rendering of hilaskesthai, which means “to propitiate,” not “to make atonement,” and means “to put away God’s wrath.” When we sin, we make God angry, which is not to say we “make God mad.” God’s anger is holy; it is not His temper in action. God never “blows His top.” When we arouse God’s anger, we become His enemy. Part of our salvation involves ending God’s wrath towards us. The way this verse is written in the original language makes it clear that the work of Christ ended God’s wrath directed at His people only; that is, only those who have confessed Christ and are living for Him are living wrath-free! Unrepentant sinners are living under God’s wrath, and one day will experience it first hand.

e. To help those who are tempted, 2:18

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The sufferings Jesus endured enable Him to help others. Jesus didn’t just suffer on the Cross; He suffered His whole life. There is no temptation you can face that Jesus hasn’t already faced. Being who and what He is, Jesus’ temptations must have been horrific in nature. And Jesus faced the full force of every temptation because He never yielded. Human beings almost never face temptation’s full force because we give in. But Jesus never gave in. He fully identifies with what you are going through.

For many of us, defeat begins when temptation begins. Most of us are good at not giving into the temptation to commit murder. Most of us are good at overcoming the lustful thoughts that flow through our minds on a daily basis. But what about the temptation to despair? Or to get really, really mad at somebody? What about the temptation to become depressed or discouraged? What about the temptation to worry and fret? All those things have the potential to become sinful. What about temptation to not go to church or to not pray because you’re too tired? Or what about the temptation to compromise your testimony because of a decision you want to make that may not be what God wants for you?

Jesus understands what we all go through. Though our temptations come from within from our own sin nature, and from without from the adversary of our souls, Jesus understands our weaknesses, He understands the full power of temptation, and is able to help, if we would but ask. He is able to deliver completely.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 13

The sign of success

Success in Sight!, Nehemiah 6:10—16

Among the great sayings of Italian journalist and politician—the Soul of Italy—Giuseppe Mazzini, was “Action is the Word of God; thought is but His shadow.” There is a lot of truth in those words because actions always speak louder than words; the runner is not crowned unless he runs the race and and actually crosses the finish line.

Nehemiah was a man with a plan. It was God’s plan, given to him by the Spirit of God, but it was Nehemiah’s plan nonetheless. His intention was leave his cushy job in the palace of Persian king Artaxerxes, travel to Jerusalem, and once there, muster a volunteer workforce to rebuild the walls around that city. His intentions were good and honorable and because he put actions behind his thoughts, the walls were all but standing now. Success was all but assured.

The many trials and temptations Nehemiah faced during that rebuilding project were to him a refiner’s fire, or a lapidary’s wheel to the diamond. The purity of his character was polished and brightened through the ordeal of suffering. This godly man’s experience reminds us of what is written in the book of Job:

But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10, KJV)

Even though success was within his grasp, Nehemiah’s “ordeal by fire” was not yet over. Here we have—

1. One more temptation to evil, verse 10

The Samaritans had tried to stop the Jews from rebuilding the walls by using what amounted to “psychological warfare.” They tried intimidation, by stationing the entire Samaritan army around Jerusalem so that everybody in town could see them. They tried the threat of violence. They tried to discourage the workers by telling them the work was too much for them. They tried to frustrate the workers by telling them that their leaders didn’t know what they were doing. They tried to bribe the citizens with offers of food and drink if only they would stop building those walls. They sought to trick Nehemiah by making friends with him, only to spread gossip about his leadership and planting the seeds of dissent among the people.

Now an attempt would made to seduce Nehemiah through a false prophet who lived in Jerusalem.

One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. (verse 10a)

We know almost nothing about this man Shemaiah, except that since he had access to the Temple, he was probably a priest in addition to being a prophet. Some scholars think he was friendly with Tobiah, one of the three people, along with Sanballat and Geshem, who was trying to stop Nehemiah from finishing the wall.

The wording of this sentence suggests something was not right with this man, and Nehemiah, who has already shown he had great discernment from the Lord, obviously picked up on it. The phrase, “was shut in” means “ shut up” or “imprisoned.” We can’t be sure why Shemaiah was quarantined in his house, but the context suggests it was all a clever ruse; he was “hiding out” at home, pretending to be afraid to go out.  He was trying to trick Nehemiah into doing something Nehemiah knew to be wrong by making his lie look plausible.

Here we have evil masquerading as a friend; the most subtle temptation of all. Shemaiah, hired to pose as Nehemiah’s friend and spiritual advisor, was, in reality, no friend at all.

He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because some people are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” (verse 10b)

He was no friend; he was an outright liar. Nobody was coming to kill Nehemiah. This so-called prophet had told an expedient lie in order to get Nehemiah into the Temple. Do you see how tricky and insidious this temptation was? The lie probably made complete sense to Nehemiah, who was, after all, in real danger from the Samaritans. It could well have been true! We could not find fault with Nehemiah had be believed it. The suggestion to seek refuge in the Temple also sounded good, and given Shemaiah’s position as a priest and prophet, it also made sense. A man of God would suggest seeking refuge in the House of God. But that’s not what Shemaiah was suggesting, because this was no man of God. His plot was a lot more complex. Given Nehemiah’s reaction to the suggestion, and the phrase “close the temple doors” it seem that the prophet wanted Nehemiah to go into the Temple, and not just hide there, but to literally commandeer and take possession of it. This was what made Nehemiah so upset.

Once again we see how Satan operates, even to this very day. He takes the common and stretches it; he uses the people we respect to catch us off guard; he takes common sense a step too far, and if we’re not careful, we’ll buy his lie. The Devil’s last chance is to appear as an angel of light.

2. One more steadfast resistance, verse 11

But I said, “Should someone like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!”

We have to admire Nehemiah’s determination and his discernment and his incredible courage! Even if his life was genuinely threatened, this mild mannered cupbearer was no coward who would run away and hide! Nor would he break God’s law to save his life. He was adamant in his refusal to listen to this false prophet, even though he appeared to be friend.

The phrase “should someone like me run away” is a powerful indication of what Nehemiah thought of himself and his job. How could a man of God show fear? How could a leader stop working to save his hide while others kept on? How could a believer in God show fear?

It’s good to remember to whom we belong if we call ourselves Christians! Before we act or when we are considering a decision, it’s important to remember who our God is. In the hour of temptation, it’s good to remember whom we serve. Why in the world should believers be blown about by every wind of doctrine and believe ever one of the Devil’s lies? All Christians would do well to be a little more like Nehemiah and little less timid and indecisive in the face of the enemy! What is truly sad in our modern age is that real personal influence for the cause of Jesus Christ is often compromised on the altar of fear. We fear people; we fear the Devil, and our influence for the kingdom of Heaven is rendered useless.

3. One more defeat for the enemy, verses 12, 13

One would think that by now, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab would be used to this.

I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. (verse 12)

Fear doesn’t have to turn into sin if a child of God can keep a grip on his mind and exercise godly discernment like Nehemiah did. Nehemiah reasoned that this so-called prophet did not come in the name of God; that this whole elaborate thing was a hoax. A lot rested on Nehemiah exercising discernment and maintaining his integrity and his honor. Had he been taken in by this false prophet, his leadership would have been called into question or discredited all together. Imagine the morale of an entire nation resting on the shoulders of one man!

Shemaiah’s objective was to fill Nehemiah with fear. Why? Because fear paralyzes and that’s what the Samaritans wanted; they wanted Nehemiah to stop all his work for the Lord.

He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. (verse 13)

Even though fear is a natural emotion and a natural response to a personal threat, a Christian, like Nehemiah, does not have to give into it. Fear is not a sin, but it can become a sin. Fear becomes sin:

  • When it distracts us from our God-given tasks
  • When we are afraid of charges based on lies
  • When we would use our faith as an excuse to spare ourselves from doing God’s work.

God’s enemies were defeated this day when their dastardly plan was exposed by a godly man.

4. Another prayer, verse 14

Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.

This verse adds a whole new dimension to Jesus’ admonition to pray for those who persecute you! Nehemiah mentions another prophet, Noadiah, and we are given a glimpse of what he was up against. Even the religious establishment of his day opposed his work! Can you imagine that? This man was truly standing alone; he had no support from any of the “prophets” of Jerusalem.

But this prayer was not prayed in a spirit of anger or revenge. He knew that judgment rested with God, so he turned these poor excuses for believers over to Him. Paul did exactly the same thing with a man named Alexander:

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (2 Timothy 4:14)

In dealing with people and situations like this, we not only have Biblical precedent, but we have the example of Jesus:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

5. Another triumph for faith, verses 15, 16

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.

What an incredible feat! Nehemiah, like Jesus Christ after Him, could say:

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

In spite of all the difficulties the people encountered, the wall was finished in just under a month. The completion of this building project dealt a signal blow to the morale of Judah’s enemies:

When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.

What goes around, comes around. You reap what you sow. The Law of Reciprocity. Whatever it’s called, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab experienced it, full force. Where there is steadfast, unwavering faith in God, success is guaranteed. But notice, the success was in what Nehemiah accomplished—what he did—not what he thought. Now, we have no evidence of this, but there may have been times when Nehemiah had his doubts; he was only human, after all. But, if this was the case, he never let his emotions dictate his actions. Nehemiah and his volunteers did the work, and God’s enemies realized that God had helped them.

What do we learn from this part of Nehemiah’s life? There are a couple of lessons, and the first one has its roots back in verse 3:

I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”

God’s work, whether building a wall, building a congregation, building a reputation, or building a godly family, must be given preference over all other occupations that may demand our attention. Doing the work of the Lord is the absolute most important thing in the world for the Christian for three reasons:

  • Because God has commanded it;
  • Because the Bible authorizes it;
  • Because we have received a specific call to do it.

Nehemiah understood this. Do you?

The last lesson is found in the last sentence of chapter 6.

And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me. (verse 19b)

There will always be a threat to you when you are devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ. There will always be that one person who discourages you, frustrates you, or, in the case of Nehemiah and Tobiah, tries to intimidate you. God’s people must always be on their guard, even in times of success and great blessing. The enemy of our souls has agents everywhere, sleepers in our midst, just waiting to catch us in a moment of inattention.  If you can believe this, Tobiah, Nehemiah’s enemy, was actually admitted into Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s absence, and given a room in the Temple:

Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests. (13:4, 5)

How sneaky is the Devil? He never gives up. He is always looking for an opportunity to trip you up; he is always looking for that empty room in your heart in which to take up residence. Make sure that Jesus owns your whole heart.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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