By Woody Woodrick
Jesus as God's Son
Purpose: To affirm the glory and power of Jesus Christ as God's unique Son, who alone is worthy of our trust and obedience.
Bible Lesson: Hebrews 1
Key Verse: "He (Christ) is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word." – Hebrews 1:3
We were sitting in a room together, my father, his brother, my cousin and me. All men, all related. I looked from one to the other and realized that anyone who walked into the room who might not have known us would immediately know we are related. We all had similar physical characteristics. We all were sitting in the same basic position. Had others been in the room, we still would have stood out. Separately, one might not see the strong resemblance. Together, they are marked.
Interestingly, while I share certain physical characteristics with my father, my son could almost be a carbon copy physically.
Our scripture lesson tells us that Jesus is the "exact imprint of God's very being." This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, that the son would be an imprint of the father. But think about what this means for Jesus. The imprint is not just physical or in a few mannerisms. Jesus is the exact imprint of God's very being. The only way that happens is to be both son and father. Because Jesus was also God, he stood out among humans.
We, as children of God, should also stand out among our peers. Do we? How many times do we make decisions based on our faith? How willing are we to stand out by standing firm?
Several years ago, I had friend in sales. He told me of a colleague I'll call Tom. Tom's boss wanted him to take clients out at night, including to strip clubs, in order to get their business. Tom refused, but some others on the sales staff were willing. Some clients were taken away from Tom, and he likely lost a promotion because of his refusal to "do whatever it took" to make sales. Tom stood by his principles despite ridicule and direct economic loss. How willing are you to make a similar stand, to stand out among men?
What do you see when you look into the mirror? Do you see a reflection of Christ? Do you think others see a reflection of Christ?
As children of God, we are his heirs, heirs to the kingdom. How does that knowledge change how you look at yourself, your faith and your role as a reflection of Christ?
Christ as Intercessor
Purpose: To recognize that the ongoing intercession of Jesus as priest makes possible our communion with God.
Bible Lesson: Hebrews 7
Key Verse: "He (Christ) is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." – Hebrews 7:25
Imagine standing before a judge charged with a terrible crime. Your life hangs in the balance.
You've seen Law & Order on television and know that you are supposed to have a lawyer, someone trained to speak and act on your behalf. You'll get a chance to state your case to and jury before a verdict is rendered.
Yet, here you stand before the judge, all alone as he prepares to pronounce sentence. You look desperately for someone to help you. You see, you're guilty and you know it. Maybe a few voices reach the judge on your behalf from friends who are righteous. The judge listens, but whether the words had any impact is unclear.
Just as the sentence is about to be given, a man steps forward and says, "Your Honor, this man is one of mine. I know him, and he knows me."
You hang your head in shame. Yes, you know this man. He put his faith in you and you let him down.
"Do you know this man who has interceded on your behalf?," the judge asks.
"Yes," you say, adding, "and I'm guilty."
You look up and the judge is smiling. "Case dismissed," he says.
Incredibly, you, guilty as sin, are set free.
Prior to Christ's coming to live among us, regular folks couldn't really access God. They had to go through the high priest to seek God's blessings. The priest had prescribed steps he had to follow in seek God's forgiveness for others.
Who now acts as our intercessor? What makes Jesus' acting as our intercessor different from the high priests of old?
Because Christ came to earth and offered us salvation, we are able to approach God directly. However, Christ also serves as our intercessor, claiming us as one of his so that we approach God – to confess or to seek his aid – perfect and whole.
We are often called upon to make intercessory prayers, especially for those who are ill. How effective to you think these prayers are? What makes them effective? If we can prayer and seeks God' intervention through our prayers, how strong must be Christ's intercession.
Considering our lesson today, ask yourself these questions:
• What intercession would Jesus make to God for me?
• On God's behalf, what would Jesus intercede with me to do?
• What do I want Jesus to ask for me?
Christ as Redeemer
Purpose: To rejoice that the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ pardons our sin and cleanses us for holiness in life.
Bible Lesson: Hebrews 9:11-10:18
Key Verse: "He (Christ) entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." – Hebrews 9:12
What does it mean to have a redeemer?
The dictionary defines "redeem" as to buy or win back; to free from captivity especially by paying a ransom; to free from the penalties of sin; to change for the better; to remove the obligation of payment; to make good.
We redeem coupons for discounts on items we purchase. Sometimes we get a double discount, twice the value printed on the coupon. That removes the obligation to pay full price.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the test to determine if something is pornographic is whether the item in question has "redeeming social value." What does that mean? It's a good non-specific test because I don't think even the judges who created that test know what it means.
And then there is spiritual or moral redemption. Being redeemed by Christ meets all of those definitions. It is complete.
During biblical times, slavery was commonplace. Slaves, and often their families, worked for their masters and all that the slaves produced was the property of the master. Nothing they did could earn their freedom. Only a redeemer, someone willing to pay a price, could set them free.
We are a nation of people who would rather make it on their own. It's the American dream, earning your own way, paying your own debts. It's a way of life.
That's what makes our redemption through Christ so hard for some folks. They either can't believe no strings are attached, or they don't want to be in debt to Christ. Despite the fact that our redemption comes with no strings attached, many would rather "earn it." What are some ways folks try to earn their redemption for sin? Why don't these efforts work?
Christ as Leader
Purpose: To acknowledge that we must look to Jesus, who endured the cross, in order to face our trials.
Bible Lesson: Hebrews 12:1-13
Key Verse: "Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith." – Hebrews 12:1
Many of us have worked for more than one boss during our careers. Some have been good leaders, some have been great and some, well… Think about the good and great leaders under whom you've worked. Now think about those who were not so good. What made the difference?
We tend to be more willing to follow leaders who have been where they want us to go. Their experience in doing what they ask of us makes it easier to go along, to try it ourselves. One of the most difficult jobs in the military is to be a new officer taking over command of experiences soldiers. The newcomer may know all about how to lead, but until he goes through some trials with his men, he won't have their full respect; they will be reluctant to follow.
The two best people I ever worked for were easy to follow because I knew they had done the things they asked me to do. They knew enough to be able to offer help, and they understood the obstacles I would face. While they might not have been able to remove the obstacles, they appreciated the effort I put in to overcome them. Sometimes they could have removed the obstacles, but chose not to, because I needed to learn.
Part of their job, also, is doling out discipline when it is needed. We might decide to not follow a company policy. When it's discovered, we can expect to be disciplined. A good leader will recognize times when we've simply made a mistake and when we've acted intentionally. Both require discipline, but often different measures.
Determining when someone is a good leader often is indicated by how the leader deals with mistakes by the followers, how he disciplines them, how he teaches them, how he improves them.
Jesus Christ provides us perfect leadership. He's always acting in our best interests, even when we don't see it. He guides us and protects us, but sometimes allows us to stumble, maybe even fail, so he can teach us. Sometimes he removes obstacles before us; sometimes he does not.
In our lives, we have the opportunity to follow a variety of leaders. Sometimes we learn all we possibly can from one leader and move on to another. On occasion, we encounter a leader with whom we can't communicate and learn little. So we change again. We might eventually reach a point where we believe we've learned all we can.
Christ's leadership never ends. We are constantly learning more about him, about how to follow him, about how to be like him. We might encounter some who believe they have learned all they can about and from Jesus. They are wrong. Until we can become perfect, like Jesus, we can learn more.
In baseball, a pitcher can throw a "perfect" game. It's possible to bowl a "perfect" game. No golfer, however, has ever shot a "perfect" score of 18 on 18 holes. It can't be done. One of the things that makes the game intriguing is that you can never really stop trying to improve; trying to attain perfection. Many great golfers have come along, but just when we thought we had discovered the greatest golfer ever, another comes along who's just a little bit better.
In a world of instant everything, that's a hard concept. Striving for something we know we'll never attain is daunting. It can challenge us to try or make our efforts seem futile. What do you think?
One of the ways we get better at following Christ is by facing trials. We have to ask ourselves if a challenge we're facing is simply bad luck or a trial of faith. What's the difference? Give some examples of each.
What enables a person to grow spiritually from trials and suffering?
The Eternal Christ
Purpose: To realize that in an unstable world, the changeless Christ empowers us to be loving, generous and compassionate.
Bible Lesson: Hebrews 13:1-16
Key Verse: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." – Hebrews 13:8
One of the challenges large churches face as they grow is maintaining a sense of community among the members. Small churches have a big advantage here. Growing churches, however, reach a point where it's impossible to know every other member. Yet, a common description of successful large churches is that they keep that sense of community.
Our lesson this week teaches us how to live as a community of believers. The advice given applies to how we should respond to fellow believers. At the time the scriptures were written, many believers were imprisoned. They faced other hardships, so these instructions helped them stay united, to keep their faith living and growing.
Yet, as often happens in the Bible, those same instructions apply to how we should live among non-believers. Be kind. Be hospitable. Have compassion. Remain pure. Be content. Follow the examples of the leaders who have gone before us.
How can we do this? Through Christ, because he always gives us strength. He is ALWAYS guiding us, teaching us, leading us.
As simple as these guidelines seem, they often are not. Which ones are most difficult for you?
One of the keys to good parenting, I believe, is consistency. When you set rules for young children, they have to be enforced each and every time. The level of punishment can vary, but some type of discipline must follow each breaking of the rules.
Both of my sons at times missed childhood baseball games because they had not met their academic requirements to play. We felt it important for them to know schoolwork comes first. We could have let the oldest slide, because he had forgotten to turn in an assignment that had been completed. However, forgetting caused a lesser grade. So he sat out a game and had to tell the coach why.
Had we allowed him to play, we would never have been able to use the same discipline on the younger brother when his time came. In fact, being consistent made our job easier as parents because the boys knew what was expected and the consequences of misbehaving.
Christ and his love for us define consistency. As our verses tell us, we can endure imprisonment, torture and all other ills because Christ will never leave or forsake us. Even when we try to leave and forsake him, he remains steadfast. I believe that's one of the hardest concepts for non-believers to grasp. No matter how far we stray or how much we doubt, Christ never leaves our side. We might not see him, but if we look he's there. Always. Forever.