Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Calvinism and Hobbes

(Some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.  In this post, we'll be touching on one of the five points of Calvinism - "The perseverance of the saints".)

"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."  
Hebrews 7v25

We've come to the end of our series!  We have previously recognised:

Jesus lived a sinless life so that he could die for the sins of other people, and cover those people with his sinless life.

Jesus died on the cross so that God's anger could be absorbed, and God's love be outpoured.

Jesus rose from the dead to secure an eternal promise of a temporary grave.

Now we reach the final part, the ascension of Jesus, and find:

Jesus now lives in heaven as a high priest, interceding for his people and saving them forever.

Why did Jesus rise to heaven?  You might think the answer is simply that he had to go somewhere to wait until he returned.  We worship him now, and he appreciates that, but essentially his work is done.  When you try to imagine him in heaven, probably you imagine him looking very peaceful, serene and silent.

But that is not the case.  He has not gone to heaven to have some peace and quiet, but to work; to be a priest for us.

What was a priest in the Old Testament?  He was a bridge between people and God.  Unlike the typical Old Testament priest, Jesus has a permanent priesthood because "he continues forever" (7v24).  His priesthood is also notable because he is a "high priest" (7v26).

What is special about a high priest?  In the Jewish Temple, there were lots of different areas, which you were or were not allowed to enter depending on what type of person you were.  E.g. Gentiles could not enter some areas where Jews could.  There was one room that only the high priest could enter, and only once a year - a room called "The Holy of Holies", which was the place where God particularly dwelled among His people.

In other words, the Holy of Holies was the closest you could get to the presence of God, and only the high priest could go in there.  In Christ, therefore, we are able to draw near to God (7v24) - to enter the holy places (10v19).  Remember, when you trust your life to Jesus Christ, there's a sense in which you begin to live in him.  What happens to him, happens to you.

When he dies, you die in him.  When he rises, you rise in him.  When he ascends to heavenly places, you ascend in him.  So if he is in the presence of God, then you are in the presence of God in him!

Colossians 3v1-4 is a great example of this way of thinking, mentioning Christ's death, resurrection and life in heaven.  The apostle Paul tells us that "your life is hidden with Christ in God."  In Christ, you are in God's presence!

Jesus is the bridge between us and God.  If you are in Christ, you are in God's presence.  No one has a password that lets them in, but keeps you out.

The comic strip Calvin and Hobbes can provide an illustration for this.  In one of the strips, Calvin wants to go up to the tree house where his tiger, Hobbes, is waiting.  He asks Hobbes to lower the rope ladder.  Hobbes instead asks for the password!

Calvin then has to recite a long poem, all about how wonderful tigers are!  By the end of the strip, he still hasn't reached the end of the poem!  Instead, he turns to the reader and says: "Hobbes can climb the tree without the ladder, so he got to make up the password."

You might be applying that way of thinking to people in your church, particularly church leaders.  They might dress differently, or speak differently, and you start to believe they have access to God that you can't have.  You place them on a pedestal - you believe they are higher up the tree than you - you believe that they must have the password.

But there is no password!  In Christ, we can all draw near to God!  In Christ, we can go where only the high priest can go!

Here's a question to think about:  If, in Christ, you are always in the presence of God, when should worship stop?

The answer must be "never"!  Your whole life must be offered as a living sacrifice - this is the only worship that makes sense in the light of what Jesus has done (Romans 12v1).  We'll consider next week what a worshiping community looks like.

We draw near to God in Christ - but we do so "by his blood" (Heb 10v19).  As our high priest, Jesus must offer a sacrifice for our sins.  He offers himself (7v27) - he is the priest and he is the sacrifice!  For as long as he is in God's presence, he is presenting the sacrifice that takes away our sins.

As our high priest, he also intercedes for us by speaking on our behalf.  He prays for his people, and defends us against accusations of guilt.  "Who can condemn us?  Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." (Romans 8v34)

By his prayers, he continues to protect my relationship with God.  What happens when Jesus prays?  In John 14v12-14, Jesus tells his followers that if they pray anything in his name - anything that has his seal of approval, anything that he himself would pray - then it will happen.  That is the level of authority that he has.

So what happens when Jesus prays?  Whatever Jesus prays happens!  And right now, he prays for the salvation of his people.

So the writer of Hebrews can state "he is able to save to the uttermost all those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (7v25)  My relationship with God is protected by the intercession of Jesus as my high priest.  I will persevere as a Christian for as long as Jesus perseveres as a high priest - and he perseveres forever!  He is a faithful high priest (Heb 2v17) - he will never give up and he will never die!

So, Jesus now lives in heaven as a high priest, interceding for his people and saving them forever.  How should this affect my life?

1. Recognise that God's concern for your life is not sporadic.  God does not tune in and out of your life.  When things get tough, it is not because God has been distracted and allowed something to slip through the net.  He is still working in and through your life.  One of the reasons you can be sure of God's attention to your life is because Jesus always brings you to His attention - he is faithfully and continually praying for you.

2.  You can pray with confidence in Christ.  You can approach boldly because of Jesus.  When you have times of open prayer as part of corporate worship, do not remain silent because you lack confidence in yourself, or because you think others have learned the password.  Find your confidence in Christ - as you speak up, trust in his intercession for you, and approach God with boldness.

3.  Trust the safety of your soul to Jesus Christ.  When you trust Jesus to save you and lead you through this life, he covers you with his sinless life; protects you with his sacrificial death; promises you a resurrection by his resurrection; and prays for you as a high priest in heaven.  

Why does he do all this?  Because of love.  "God so loved the world that he sent his Son" - to do all this!  Glory be to our God and our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ!

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