chiasm: Hebrews 3.1-12.29

What would you say is the centerpiece, the primary point of emphasis, of the letter/sermon we know today as Hebrews?

It might be helpful to know that the vast majority of the material of Hebrews can be viewed as a single, large chiastic structure.


Credit: Morna Hooker, cited in New Testament Rhetoric by Ben Witherington (Cascade, 2009); p.201

Hebrews 1-2: today’s discussion questions


1. What has Jesus done for all of creation and what does he do today?

2. What are common distractions and temptations to stop paying attention to God and to drift away from him?

3. What would tempt you to give up your faith in Christ?

4. If you gave up following Christ, what would you leave him to become? Why?

5. “Think right and good actions will follow.” Do right and your head will eventually come along.” Which is it? Explain.

6. What makes salvation in Christ so great?

7. Christ is your brother. What does that mean? To you personally?

8. If God is in control, why does pain and suffering continue on? What good could God possibly bring from it?

9. What makes people fearful of death? Are you afraid of death?

10. Engage this statement: “If you’re a devoted Christian, your life will not be full of pain or strewn with enormous difficulties.”

11. Paint a word picture for us as to what Christ looks like now in all his glory.

12. What does a priest do? What does Jesus, our high priest, do for us?

Hebrews: keep calm & carry on (4)


Keep-Calm-Carry-OnDuring the winter Bible class quarter where I minister some of our adult classes will study the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings (Dec. 1 thru Feb. 23). This study is entitled Hebrews: Keep Calm & Carry On. To aid lesson prep, I’m posting ten sets of twenty exercises/questions to research and consider from each major section of Hebrews (as broken down in David A. DeSilva’s work Perseverance in Gratitude). Today’s set of exercises/questions interacts with Hebrews 5.11-6.20 and is entitled “Honoring God Necessitates Perseverance.”

1. “We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain …” (5.11) K.I.S.S. is the common cry from seemingly everyone these days and yet, much of Scripture itself is anything but simple, quick and easy, or instantly relevant and practical. What practical steps can/must a disciple take to resist the temptation to tune out whatever is lengthy and/or difficult?

2. “… you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening …” (5.11) Don’t hold back, preacher; please, tell us what you’re really thinking! When was the last time you seriously thought about how you listen to teachers and preachers? What can a Christian do to maximize their listening?

3. “… you should have been teachers by now …” (5.12) Not every Christian has any business teaching … or do they? Explain with this specific text in view.

4. “… you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message …” (5.12) Make a list of what you would say are “the basics” of God’s message. Then make another list, this one of “the basics” as the writer of Hebrews has in view. How do these lists differ?

5. Carefully read 5.12b-14. Believers need to grow beyond living on milk (cf. question # 1 above); they need to learn to eat “spiritual meat.” So what exactly is, as the writer of Hebrews would have understood it, “solid food?” What do you do if you’re a leader and the spiritual babies complain about the menu and demand milk again instead of meat? How do you know if you’re one of those babies?

6. “… let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word.” (6.1) This is much easier said than done. In view what you’ve read thus far in Hebrews (1.1-6.1), what would the “maturity” the writer has in mind for his audience look like?

7. With the aid of more than one quality commentary at hand, bone up on each of the specific matters the author has in mind in 6.1b-2.

8. “… it’s impossible to restore people to changed hearts and lives who turn away once they have seen the light …” (6.4) This much is certain: the writer is not saying repentance is impossible if a person leaves Christ for we all know of cases where repentance and restoration has occurred. So what is the writer saying here?

9. What are the specific blessings converts to Christ experience enumerated in 6.4b-5? What are each of these blessings about? Research and meditate on these matters. Are these blessings you consider and thank God for very often? How might your prayers change somewhat if they were?

10. To drop out of a life of faith and interaction with the community of faith, the church, is no small thing. Specifically, to turn away from Christ is to personally crucify him again (6.4a,6). Someone must die … and it’s either you or Jesus. Make a list of the matters you’ve seen that have greatly contributed to people giving up their walk with Christ. Then, consider specific people you know have given up following the Lord. Do they realize the seriousness of their condition? Pray for them.

11. How is it that every dropout Christian exposes Christ to “public shame” afresh (6.6b)?

12. With 6.7-8 in mind, how would a disciple know they could be in jeopardy of being pronounced by God as “useless and close to being cursed?” Similarly, how could they know they are a “useful crop?”

13. Consider 6.9. The person preaching this sermon we call “Hebrews” says that though he’s speaking hard words, he’s not preaching people into hell. Why is it important to say such a thing and to avoid such preaching as the writer avoided?

14. Surely 6.10 is one of the most encouraging passages in the entire Bible. Read it slowly and thoughtfully several times. Drink in the promise deeply. Then drink in just as deeply the words of 6.11-12.

15. How exactly does a Christian make their “hope sure until the end” (6.11b)? What role does “faith and patience” play in this (6.12b)?

16. There is such a thing as being a “lazy” Christian, and such is to be avoided at all costs (6.12). How can a disciple ward off the effects of the relentless pull of gravity that is laziness in faith?

17. Read 6.13-15. Then note that the quote in 6.14 is from Genesis 22.17. Refresh your mind as to the full context of that quote by reading the deadly serious events recorded in Genesis 22.1-19.

18. The fact that God makes “pledges” and “promises” is strongly stressed in 6.13-20. Why does God makes promises to people? Form your answer(s) with exact wording from this passage.

19. Yes, there are some things God cannot do. For example, “it’s impossible for God to lie.” (6.18) What else do we know specifically from what’s stated in Scripture that God cannot do?

20. What exactly does the author mean when he says “this hope … enters the sanctuary behind the curtain” (6.19b).

Hebrews: keep calm & carry on (3)


Keep-Calm-Carry-OnDuring the winter Bible class quarter where I minister some of our adult classes will study the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings (Dec. 1 thru Feb. 23). This study is entitled Hebrews: Keep Calm & Carry On. To aid lesson prep, I’m posting ten sets of twenty exercises/questions to research and consider from each major section of Hebrews (as broken down in David A. DeSilva’s work Perseverance in Gratitude). Today’s section is Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and is entitled “Jesus, Our Guarantor of God’s Favor.”

1. A simple contraction (“let’s”) or phrase (“let us”) is often repeated throughout Hebrews. As you read Hebrews, make a list of every instance of such where a word of encouragement immediately follows.

2. We’ve already seen the writer of Hebrews encourage his audience to maintain their grip on Christ (2.1; 3.6,14) and once more we see it again (4.14). How is it someone who has taken hold of Christ could ever let go?

3. What is “the confession” we’re called to hold onto in 4.14?

4. How can it be said that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are”? (4.15b)

5. Christ can “sympathize” with us (4.15). The word means much more than having merely an emotional or psychological connection, but speaks to Christ “experiencing” what we experience. How does this awareness deepen the significance of the teaching of 4.14-16 for you?

6. What would it look like for a Christian to “draw near to the throne of favor with confidence” (4.16)? By this statement, what are they encouraged to be doing?

7. What’s the difference between “mercy” and “grace” (4.16)?

8. Working solely from 4.15-5.3, create a job description or ministry definition for a high priest.

9. Why do we need a high priest to intercede with God for us? Why can’t we approach God directly without an intermediary? What does it do for you to know that Jesus, as the perfect high priest, is your go-between with God?

10. Israel’s Levitical priests was “able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since” they were themselves “prone to weakness.” (5.2) What does the OT teach concerning unintentional sins and willful, deliberate sins?

11. All the Aaronic priests were sinners like the rest of humankind (5.3). In strong contrast, Jesus was/is without (4.15). Think back on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and consider how many people, and how many times, he was accused, without foundation, of being a sinner. If the sinless One was greatly misunderstood, how much more might his sinful followers be misunderstood? How does actually work as encouragement to the early Christians?

12. Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament and vs. 4 of this psalm is quoted here in Heb. 5.5-6. In fact, Ps. 110.4 forms the basis for Heb. 4.14-7.28. So, read and study Ps. 110. How does the original setting and message of Ps. 110 assist you in understanding Heb. 4.14-5.10?

13. In 5.1-4, the writer notes two qualifications a high priest had to meet: (1) they were “taken [selected] from the people” (5.1) and (2) “called by God” (5.4).

14. Do some reading on the Jewish high priesthood in the time of Jesus and the apostles. How is 5.4, among other things, a critical swipe at such?

15. When specifically do we know Jesus Christ “offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death” and that “he was heard because of his godly devotion?” (5.7) That is, to what scene(s) in the Gospels do the words of 5.7 refer?

16. In what way did God answer Jesus’ prayers and save Jesus from death (5.7)? Should Jesus’ disciples expect more or better blessing than their Lord?

17. How is it that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered?” (5.8) That is, how is it that Jesus had to “learn” anything, given that he was the Son of God?

18. What is the connection between our eternal salvation by Jesus and our obedience to him. (5.9)

19. Read everything the Old Testament has to say about the priest named Melchizedek (Genesis 14).

20. The main point section of this section Hebrews (4.14-5.10) is that Jesus is a better high priest than the high priests of the priesthood of Aaron. As you read through Hebrews, make a list of all the matters in which Jesus and Christian faith is portrayed as superior to, better than, or greater than Jewish faith.

Hebrews: keep calm & carry on (2)


Keep-Calm-Carry-OnDuring the winter Bible class quarter where I minister some of our adult classes will study the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings (Dec. 1 thru Feb. 23). This study is entitled Hebrews: Keep Calm & Carry On.

To aid lesson prep, I’m posting ten sets of twenty exercises/questions to research and consider from each major section of Hebrews (as broken down in David A. DeSilva’s work Perseverance in Gratitude). Today’s section is Hebrews 3.1-4.13 and is entitled The Inexpediency of Distrust.

1. This entire section of Hebrews (3.1-4.13) is devoted to elaborating on Jesus’ faithfulness as our high priest before God. The section that follows (4.14-5.10) will discuss our high priest’s compassion. Faithfulness and mercy. How are both of these qualities critical to our being able to be forgiven (cf. 2.17)?

2. What does it mean for Jesus to be “the apostle … of our confession” (3.1)?

3. Why do we humans need Jesus Christ as a “high priest” (3.1) to intercede for us with God the Father?

4. Why would the author feel it necessary to prove Jesus’ superiority to Moses (3.1-6) when they have already proven Jesus is superior to the angels (1.5-14)?

5. “We are his house if we hold on to the confidence and the pride that our hope gives us. … We are partners with Christ, but only if we hold on to the confidence we had in the beginning until the end.” (3.6,14) Note the word “if.” As you read through Hebrews, underscore every occurrence of the word “if” when it is used in relation to our relationship with Christ.

6. The words of Psalm 95 form the footing for most of what’s said in Heb. 3.7-4.10. Read Psalm 95 slowly and thoughtfully, doing some research as well. What was the original context and message of this psalm? How does that come into play in Heb. 3.7-4.10?

7. What did it mean for Israel to “hear his voice” (3.7,15a), that is, God’s voice? What does it mean for us as Christians today? How does it happen?

8. God says “your ancestors challenged and tested me.” (3.9a) How did the Israelites challenge and test God? Can we be guilty of the same today? Explain.

9. As you read 3.7-4.3 again, note every reference to God’s anger. Why do God’s people need to keep with them this understanding of God being capable of being “angry” with his people?

10. How is it anyone could be led away from God? Let the matters specified in 3.8a,12-13,15,19b inform your entire answer. Ponder what such could look like in action.

11. “The living God” (3.12) is a common way of referring to God in the OT (cf. Deut. 5.26; Ps. 42.2; 84.1-2; Jer. 10.10) as well as here in Hebrews (3.12; 9.14; 10.31; 12.22). Why emphasize the fact God is “living?” What other kind of god(s) could there be that people might be tempted to serve instead?

12. One way to “watch out” for each other (3.12a) and to shield ourselves and each other from developing “an evil, unfaithful heart that abandons the living God” (3.12b) is to deliberately “encourage each other every day” (3.13). How can this be done? What sort of things might we be about doing if we were to devote ourselves to such?

13. What does it mean “we are partners with Christ” (3.14a)? How might a deep sensitivity to this reality help keep us from straying away from the living God?

14. Sadly, many make a start with Christ, but drop out along the way and no longer continue with him. This is precisely what the author of Hebrews wants their readers to avoid doing (3.14b). Make a list of matters you’ve personally witnessed smother the life of faith out of Christians who had made a good start. Now make another list of how “encouragement from others” (cf. 3.13) might have helped prevent their apostasy.

15. The image of a desert become cemetery for a multitude of people is certainly a sobering scene (3.16-19)! Even more sobering is the fact this was written as a reminder/warning to Christians (4.1). What does this say to you?

16. Reference is made to yet another blessing from God in 4.1 (“the promise”). Literally count your blessings by listing every blessing God’s people enjoy that finds mention in 3.1-4.13.

17. In contrast to the blessings list, make a list of all the negative human reactions to God’s blessings that are recorded in 3.1-4.13.

18. Heb. 4.1-11 is what’s known as an “inclusio.” That is, an idea laid down at the start (4.1) is returned to at the end (4.11). Here the concept is of Christians entering “the rest” that Israel did not enter. Consult a quality commentary and study the entirety of 4.1-11 closely.

19. Heb. 4.12 is full of deep thought. How is God’s word “living” and “active?” What is the difference between the “soul” and the “spirit?” And how is it that it is God’s word that “judges the heart’s thoughts and intentions?”

20. Like the rest of humanity, Christians will “have to give an answer” to God for “everything” (4.13). What is stirred up in you at the thought of this?

Hebrews: keep calm & carry on (1)


Keep-Calm-Carry-OnThe winter Bible class quarter where I minister will run on Sunday mornings from Dec. 1 thru Feb. 23 (thirteen weeks). Some of our adult classes will focus on a study of the book of Hebrews during a portion, or all, of that time. The title for our study is Hebrews: Keep Calm & Carry On.

In the interest of aiding advance preparation on the part of both teachers and students, starting today I’ll post twenty exercises/questions to research and consider from each major section of Hebrews.

For the sake of these notes (not the class outline/schedule) I’ll follow David A. DeSilva’s outline in his fine commentary entitled Perseverance in Gratitude. DeSilva discerns ten divisions of thought in Hebrews and so, the postings here will appear as follows:

  • 1.1-2.18 (Oct. 18)  –  Responding to God’s Word & Work in the Son
  • 3.1-4.13 (Oct. 25)  –  The Inexpediency of Distrust
  • 4.14-5.10 (Nov. 1)  –  Jesus, Our Guarantor of God’s Favor
  • 5.11-6.20 (Nov. 8)  –  Honoring God Necessitates Perseverance
  • 7.1-8.13 (Nov. 15)  –  Jesus, the Better Qualified Mediator of God’s Favor
  • 9.1-10.18 (Nov. 22)  –  The Decisive Removal of Sin’s Defilement
  • 10.19-39 (Nov. 29)  –  Draw Near to God and to Each Other
  • 11.1-12.3 (Dec. 6)  –  Faith’s Orientation in the World
  • 12.4-29 (Dec. 13)  –  In Training for the Kingdom
  • 13.1-25 (Dec. 20)  –  Living in Gratitude to God

Here’s a link to Hebrews 1.1-2.18 as rendered by the Common English Bible. When you’ve read the Scriptures there, come back here and use the following exercises and questions as tools to help you mine out the meaning of the text.

1. Hebrews is anonymous; there is no indication in it as to who wrote it. The wording of 2.3 tells us the author was not a direct witness of Christ, but likely had some connection with the ministry of Paul (due to the mention of Timothy in 13.23). With the aid of a study Bible, quality commentary, or reference work, read up on who scholars consider as possible authors.

2. We don’t know exactly to whom Hebrews was written. Perhaps they lived in Italy (cf. 13.24b). The title (“To the Hebrews”) was added long after it was penned. Again, with the aid of a solid reference work, read a bit as to who scholars think could have first received this letter.

3. As you read through Hebrews, make a list of passages that reveal some of what the original audience of Hebrews had gone through in time past as well as what they were currently experiencing. To get you started, consider 2.1; 5.11-6.12; 10.25-39; and 12.12.

4. Strictly speaking, Hebrews is not a “letter,” but a “message of encouragement” or “sermon” (13.22) written in an elegant Greek style. It’s main thrust seems to be to answer the question “Is it worth it to be a Christian?” As you read Hebrews, listen to this sermon with a steady ear for how the author addresses that concern.

5. Using the CEB, note the subtitles marking off the five thought divisions within 1.1-2.18 (1.1-4; 1.5-14; 2.1-4; 2.5-9; 2.10-18). The third section (2.1-4) is the writer’s central point of application; the other four sections either leading up to, or flowing out from, this one. What do the first and last thought divisions have in common (1.1-4 & 2.10-18)? How do the second and fourth (1.5-14 & 2.5-9) complement each other?

6. What does it mean to truly listen to God’s Son, God’s message (1.1-4)? What sort of things make it easy for us not to truly hear him?

7. What does it mean for God to have a “Son?” (1.2a)

8. Compare the wording of 1.3 regarding Jesus with the wording of a contemporary Jewish apocryphal book known as the Wisdom of Solomon 7.26.

9. Make a list of all the specific matters listed in 1.2-4 that are attributed to the Son.

10. Twice in chapter one (1.2,10), emphasis is placed on Christ being greater than all of creation, a creation that will one day be shaken (1.11-12; 12.25-29). What does this say about the nature of Jesus?

11. Why might the author deem it essential to stress Jesus’ superiority to the angels in 1.3-14? What might make this a matter of special importance to the original readers? Make sure 2.2-3 helps inform your answer. How is this superiority of Christ over angels helpful for us to know today?

12. Between 1.5-2.13, at least a dozen passages are quoted from the OT. By means of cross-references, locate each of these OT texts and read the immediate context of each. Also, from what OT book are most of the references taken?

13. With 1.5 in view, when specifically would you say the proclamation of Jesus as God’s Son occurred? Why?

14. The “sermon” we know as “Hebrews” is frequently punctuated with words of warning for Christians not to drift off from, or grow distant to, faith in Christ. The words of 2.1-3a are the first of these warning passages. With 2.1-3a, start a list that you’ll add to as you read through Hebrews, noting each occurrence of a clear, emphatic statement of warning.

15. Consider the implications of the warning statements (like the one in 2.1-3a) and what they have to say about the assurance and certainty of our salvation? Is true that once a person is saved by Christ that it is impossible for them to become lost? Elaborate.

16. What role were miracles, signs, and gifts of the Holy Spirit intended to play (2.3-4)?

17. Read 2.5-9 closely. Was humanity intended to rule over creation? If so, what kept humanity from having complete control? What is God’s solution to the control problem?

18. Did Jesus experience injustice and suffering because creation is totally “out of control” (2.10)? Does the experience of injustice or suffering on the part of Christians act as evidence that their faith and hope in God is in vain? Explain.

19. What does it mean that God “made perfect the pioneer of salvation” (Jesus) through the “experiences of suffering” (2.10)? Was Jesus not “perfect” before those experiences, does the word “perfect” have a different meaning than we normally associate with the word today, or what? What is Jesus “made perfect” for?

20. Answering with the immediate context in view (2.10-18), why is it exactly that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way” (2.17a)?

this went thru my mind

Capital punishment: Why Capital Punishment is Not Such a Capital and Christian Idea by Ben Witherington

“Let me be clear that all the harangues in the world about what the OT says about capital punishment will not persuade me in the least that this makes it o.k. for Christians to participate in the legal taking of someone else’s life. Christians are not under any form of the old covenant, they are under the new covenant, and the new covenant is not just the old covenant renewed or Parte Deux, the sequel.”

Church attendance: Why Sunday Is Not On Your Travel Itinerary! by Mark Woodward

“I have a feeling that many, if not most Christians do not plan to go to church on Sundays when they are traveling. Sometimes we haven’t, but most of the time we try to and I’d like to tell you why.”

Church budgets: Church Budgeting Myths by Tim Spivey

“The area of church finance is riddled with myths. They have pure motives behind them, but they are myths all the same. If you buy into them, you’ll set yourself up for financial peril down the road. Here are a few with some observations.”

Church membership: Why I Have No Difficulty Helping “Issue Christians” to Move On by Ed Stetzer

“… we should always provide guidance, but we should not always provide a platform. “Issue Christians” want a platform with you and your church because they are passionate about an issue–don’t let that distract you or your church from being and doing all that God has in store. Move on… and move them on.”

Committees: If Committees Told the Truth by Seth Godin

“… we will compromise the art and the vision out of it, we will make it reasonable and safe and boring.”

Computing: (1) Online Traffic Shifts from PCs by Jameson Berkow and (2) What to Do if Your E-Reader Is Lost or Stolen by Eric Dye

(1) “For possibly the first time, the most popular online activities are being carried out on devices other than a PC …”

(2) “The last thing you want to happen after realizing your Kindle is missing, is to find someone purchased hundreds of dollars worth of e-books under your account. Here’s what you need to do if your Kindle, Nook or Sony Reader vanish.”

Frustration: 5 Steps for Handling Frustration by Rick Warren

“Here are five simple steps for dealing with frustrations in your life.”

Hebrews: Hebrews Recited by Joel Shorey

The book of Hebrews describes itself as a sermon. Joel Shorey memorized the entire book of Hebrews and recited it, without comment, as a sermon. This is a 45 min. video of that recitation. Wow.

Jealousy: Jealousy at the Boiling Point by Brian LaMew

“What are you really jealous for in life? Isolate your jealous feelings. What is it that you really are seeking after and will obtaining that actually give you the contentment you desire?”

Love: The Dangerous Myth of Unconditional Love by Dan Bouchelle

“Here is a hard truth to hear that you need to know: God is the only one who is truly capable of unconditional love.”

Parenting & sports: When Sports Becomes God by Jonathan McKee

“… maybe parents need to think ahead when it comes to signing up for sports and decide exactly how committed to a team or activity they are really ready to be.”

Occupy Wall Street: (1) A Devotion for Wall Street: Does Jesus have anything to say about the “Occupy Wall St.” protests? by Shane Claiborne and (2) The Health and Wealth of the Church by Christ Altrock

(1) “Woody Guthrie may be right. If Jesus came to Wall Street preaching the same message that he preached in Galilee… he might land himself on a cross again.”

(2) “Occupy Wall Street might force America’s top 1% to soberly reflect on the “soundness” of their own fiscal lifestyle. Perhaps it ought to force us all, especially Americans, to soberly reflect on the “soundness” of our own fiscal lifestyles.”

Twenty-somethings: 20 Somethings: Why are they Leaving and What Can We Do About It? by Matt Dabbs

“Boil down all the issues and here is what you get – the vast majority of churches have a ginormous culture gap within the congregation and are doing little to nothing to resolve it.”

Violence: God Hates Bloodshed by Richard E. Oster, Jr.

“The commitment of the early followers of Christ to humility, peace, non-violence, and meekness stands in stark contrast to the glorification of brute force and bloodshed prevalent in the entertainment values of so many cultures, both ancient and modern.”