Joe Baity draws a distinction between ancient mariners, who recognized they were off course due to stormy weather, and those of us today who may be unaware that we are off course on our spiritual journey. After a storm, those ancient mariners found steady, reliable points of reference in the skies, once the clouds cleared away, and adjusted their courses, pointing their vessels in the right direction. Today, we of God's people can remain off course for extended periods of time, not recognizing that Satan has flooded us with lies designed to subliminally disconnect us from the reference point we call reality. The Gruen Effect—which subconsciously moves shoppers to buy things they don't need—didn't even want—has found application in more than shopping malls, but in the casinos, online shopping outlets and news feeds of all descriptions. The effect of Satan's flood of (mis)information is to disorient us, blurring the lines between reality and illusion, wants and needs, driving us to lose sight of those all-important points of reference necessary for our spiritual growth. We become pulled off course—and don't even recognize it, stimulated as we are by the dizzying lure of the around-and-about. To maintain our orientation, we need to fix our eyes on the reference points established at our baptismal covenant, including God's Law, the Sabbath, and the work of our Savior, High Priest, and Elder Brother, who is both the starting and ending reference point, the Alpha and the Omega of our spiritual journey.
Martin Collins, warning that all prophetic speculations have been accompanied with a high degree of error and subsequent embarrassment to the speculator and his adherents, admonishes us that any prophetic speculation, accurate or not, is useless unless it is promotes diligence in living Godly lives, eagerly and expectantly preparing for the return of our Savior, living our lives to the glory of God. If we begin to doubt the veracity of Christ's return, our hearts will turn cold, causing us to imitate the evil servant who begins to mistreat his fellow servants. We have to exercise the same kind of watchful care as a night watchman on guard against thieves and robbers. It is natural for all of us to desire to protect our physical property; protecting our spiritual property should warrant a much higher priority. We must assiduously emulate the faithful servant rather than the evil servant, caught up in cruelty, carousing, and shirking responsibility. Faithless Christians will be judged with greater strictness and severity than non-believers who do not know any better; knowledge always creates a greater level of responsibility. The anticipation of seeing Christ return should be the greatest motivator, bringing about a dramatic change of behavior, living sanctified, set-apart, holy lives that please God, the kind of behavior which could actually bring about an acceleration of God's plans. We should be emulating Christ's model prayer, diligently beseeching the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We need to avoid two dangerous extremes, believing that nothing we can do will make a difference, and the notion that God cannot do anything unless we personally do it. As God's called-out ones, we avoid becoming unstable by growing spiritually, realizing that being saved by grace is only the beginning of the process; we must be constantly strengthened by grace, prompting us to keep God's Commandments as a testimony of our love for Him, maturing to the full stature of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition of the parallels between the divisions of the books of the Psalms with the Torah, Megilloth, and seasons, focuses again on Book II of the Psalms (written largely by David and showing how he reacts to some gruesome trials by surrendering to God's redemption). He points out that some of the emergent themes in this work consist of redemption and deliverance (paralleled by the book of Ruth with Boaz as a Christ figure, as well as the great grandfather and Ruth as the great grandmother of David and a progenitor of our Savior Jesus. The Psalms David wrote in this section describe his humbling experience caused by his own sin (Psalm 51), betrayal by Doeg the Edomite (Psalm 52), feigning madness to escape from the Gathites (Psalm 56), hiding from Saul (Psalm 57) metaphorized as escaping from lions (Psalm 58), the betrayal by Ahitophel , and the helpless feeling experienced by a tired and spent senior citizen (Psalm 71). His experiences, as well as our experiences in our symbolic 50-day walk through our spiritual journey to sanctification, is symbolized by the Israelites' baking of two loafs to be offered to God on Pentecost. This journey to sanctification is the focus of Book II of the Psalms, the Books of Exodus and Ruth, as well as the Feast of Weeks.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
Unless we are employed in a maritime occupation or have a particular interest in sailboats, we probably do not know a great deal about sailing. Using Paul's analogy in Ephesians 4:14, Gary Montgomery teaches a handy nautical maneuver, discussing how the steady, contrary winds of this world's way of life can be overcome by adjusting our sails to make spiritual headway.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
Sometime in their Christian lives, many people hit a plateau in their growth and go little further. Have we have overlooked the simple principle of "ask and it will be given" spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
It is a wonderful thing that God has called us out of this world and paid the penalty for our sins, but what happens next? After making the covenant with God, how does a person avoid backsliding as so many biblical examples show? John Ritenbaugh answers these questions by explaining what seeking God is really all about.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
John Ritenbaugh warns that if we are not moving forward, we will be swept back into the world. The warnings given to the people addressed by Amos and Isaiah were people (like us) who had already made a covenant with Him. Despite their having made the covenant with God, they did not really know God. After we have been called out by God, we have to seek Him and His way realizing that our conduct is motivated by our concept of God. We must be continually seeking God and living the way God lives. Abraham, when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, added up what He knew about God, calculating that Isaac was the promised seed and would have to be replaced or resurrected. Eternal life, according to Barclay, was more than endless life, but the quality of life God lives. Coming to know God is the church's biggest problem. Romans 1:20 teaches that God's nature can be seen in the creation itself, but failure to have awe before God and to love Him leads to a confused reprobate mind. Emerson suggested that whatever people worship, they will become.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
Over the past few generations, orthodoxy in virtually every aspect of life has been discarded, indicating how perverse human nature is in its determination to rebel against God. John Ritenbaugh uses several examples from real life to illustrate human presumption, a tendency which we all share—and one God takes a serious stance against.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
As this world keeps on turning, more people become skeptical about the return of Jesus Christ. The Bible, however, insists that He will come again and quickly. Richard Ritenbaugh advises watchful, sober expectation because the Lord does not delay His coming.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
Over the years, we have been told many times that we are on the gun lap. What is this gun lap? Using his track experience, Mike Ford shows how we must give our all to reach our finish line!
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
Compromise is a dirty word to a Christian. John Reid shows that big compromises—and eventual apostasy—begins with little compromises.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
We have a tendency to put matters behind us once we are finished with them, but we cannot afford to do this with the lessons we learn from the Days of Unleavened Bread. John Reid shows that those lessons are eternal!
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that the doctrines entrusted to us through Herbert Armstrong's apostleship remain a major plank in the foundation of our faith. Adopting a revolutionary stance (Proverbs 24:21) for the sake of change, variety, or relieving boredom will systematically destroy the faith once delivered. Through the sanctification process, we incorporate Christ's righteousness by obedience, prayer, study, bearing fruit, sacrificing, serving, and yielding to God's Spirit, enabling us to develop character. In the current scattering, God is testing us to see whether we will hold fast, resisting heresies and false doctrines. Our vision must be kept alive and ever growing or our zeal, motivation, and unity will wane.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
All the signs point to Christ's imminent return, yet the Bible warns us not to let down! John Reid, using Hebrews 10, exhorts us to strive zealously to please God and finish our course!
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
John Ritenbaugh warns us that because of our close proximity to a materialistic world filled with man's works, our faith cannot take root. The Sabbath is the day consecrated by God for building faith, energizing our minds for fellowship with God. We dare not defile, profane, offer blemished sacrifices, or put to common use this holy time. Our approach to the Sabbath needs to be quality, whole-hearted, aimed at perfection rather than slipshod, lackadaisical, or "Dutching" it just to get by. The Sabbath contains three principal themes or motifs, focusing upon the past (creation), the present (redemption) and the future (prefiguring the Kingdom of God). We must diligently strive to enter this rest.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Reid focuses upon the dangerous trait of human nature of allowing familiarity or complacency to lure people into carelessly taking something for granted. It is particularly dangerous to take God and His purpose for us for granted. If we see God clearly, we will not. Contributing factors in not clearly seeing His purpose include 1) sloppy prayer and Bible study (I Timothy 4:14-16), 2) becoming entangled in the world's cares (Matthew 13:22), and 3) refusal to change or overcome. With a contrite heart, we need to love God zealously (Deuteronomy 6:5), never taking our eyes off the great purpose He has for us.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh, drawing a parallel from human physical love provides an eight-point checklist to determine whether our love for Christ is genuine. If we love another person, we will (1) think about (2) like to hear about (3) like to read about (4) seek to please (5) be with the friends of (6) be jealous of the honor of (7) like to talk to, and (8) always want to be with this person. Like the Ephesian church, in the wake of mounting disappointments, frustrations, deferred hopes and pressures, we cannot become weary of well-doing, allowing our first love and devotion to deteriorate, looking to the world to gratify our desires. We desperately need to redirect our energies (Colossians 3:1; Galatians 6:6-8), to rekindling our first love.
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
John Ritenbaugh warns that benign neglect of the Sabbath covenant can incrementally lead us into idolatry, as it apparently led Solomon into idolatry. We are admonished to respect or treat this holy time as different from the other days of the week, forsaking our mundane concerns, but allowing God to perform intense spiritual work, redeeming us from spiritual bondage, increasing our faith, and working out salvation in us. The Sabbath provides us the necessary time to systematically inculcate God's Word into our inner beings, fellowshipping with God and other called-out brethren. We need to carefully prepare for the Sabbath, making careful use of this precious preparation time for future service in His Kingdom. The Sabbath typifies the time of full redemption of Salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth- a millennial rest for this creation.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when a person contemplates revenge, he makes an enemy of God. Amos, like a circling hawk, makes dire pronouncements on all of Israel's enemies but reserves the harshest judgment for Israel, who should have known better, having made the covenant with Almighty God, but profaning their calling and drifting into moral complacency. God's church, the Israel of God, must realize that closeness to God comes with a weighty responsibility. God's justice is the same for everybody; He is no respecter of persons. The church is warned not to mix His truth and pagan (or worldly) error in the manner of Jeroboam I. We desperately need to cultivate (with the help of God's Holy Spirit) an ardent love of the truth. Modern Israel, prosperous and indulgent, is chastised for covetousness, indifference to the poor, and perversion of justice.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the importance of exercising faith and hope, patiently plodding along day-by-day toward our spiritual goal. Many of the pillars of faith had to wait many years (Abraham, for example, waited over 25 years before he saw the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promise) for the fruition of their faith's target. With godly hope, we need to envision the possibility of successful accomplishment of God's purpose for us, realizing that God has bound that promise with an oath and that Jesus Christ (having empathy for us) intercedes for us as High Priest. Melchizedek, a prototype as well as equivalent of Christ, establishes the validity and dignity of Christ as High Priest. The divine appointment of Jesus as our High Priest precedes our divine calling, more important than genealogy or external physical characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh observes that Hebrews is addressed to a people living at the end of an era, who were drifting away, had lost their first love or devotion, and were no longer motivated by zeal. Through lack of prayer, Bible study, and meditation, they had incrementally lost their portion of God's Holy Spirit, which now resembled a tiny, sporadic drip from a water skin. Through careless neglect, they were allowing something precious to slip out of their fingers, squandering a far greater treasure—their potential to become members of the God Family—than the people under the Old Covenant had neglected. Christ, our Trailblazer or Forerunner, was perfected through suffering, and we are to be perfected in the same way. We also need to be made perfect (adequate for our ultimate purpose) through suffering.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.