Christ Before Us
Many of us can remember favorite teachers from childhood. A good teacher congratulates students for progress made but also challenges and inspires to further progress. After last week’s harsh warning (6:4-8), the writer of Hebrews now reassures his readers of their progress, and challenges them to keep on.
We return to Hebrews for the next four weeks, continuing our series Christ Before Us. We begin with one of the most difficult texts in the entire New Testament. Is it possible to lose your salvation? Many bring their theological convictions to this text, be they Calivinist or Arminian. But how might we read it in the context of the book of Hebrews, which is presented as a “word of exhortation”?
Hebrews 5:11-6:3 Labor Day weekend marks the traditional end of summer. But many students have been back to school for a while already. Some may have found that they had regressed over the summer, and had to get back in the groove of learning. We expect students to progress from learning the ABCs all the way to advanced topics. The Christian life is also a school in which we are expected to advance from infancy to maturity, from milk to solid food.
The psalmist cried to the Lord in his distress, and he was heard. Jonah cried to the Lord from the belly of the fish, and he was heard. Jesus cried to the Lord, and he died. But his reverent submission spoke from the grave, and was heard. Now we hear his voice and submit in obedience, finding thereby eternal salvation.
Heb 4:14-16 Good help is hard to find, so the saying goes. The psalmist looked to the hills as he asked, “Where does my help come from?” He then answered his own question: My help comes from the Lord (Ps 121:1-2). Where do we look for help, especially during our spiritual journey? Our text tells us we can find timely help because we have a great high priest. We can boldly approach the eternal throne.
The ancient Collect for Purity prayed early in the Eucharist service of the Book of Common Prayer begins thus: Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. Is that a comforting thought or a scary thought? David wrote, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me,” then he dared to ask God to do so again: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps 139:1, 23). God’s living, powerful word penetrates into our deepest being, exposing us before his gaze. Will we survive his examination? Do we want him to know our heart?
Entering into God’s Rest Summer is almost over and, with it, the end of R&R, rest and relaxation. Soon we’ll be back to work, whether in the classroom or office, real or virtual, or in some other space doing “real” work with our hands. What is rest? Is it a state of mind, or a place, or a particular day? Technically, it’s the complete lack of motion, but that doesn’t sound very attractive. In this week’s passage from Hebrews the phrase “enter into God’s rest” occurs eight times. What is this rest? Where, when, and how do we enter it? And what is this rest like when we are there?
Hebrews 3:7-19 God delivered his people from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt. Their destination was Mt Sinai, to meet with the Lord, then the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. But at every step of the way the people were afraid: of Pharaoh and his army, of hunger, of thirst, of giants in the Land, even of the Lord. They kept thinking they were going to die. God brought them to the edge of the Land, but they refused to enter. They wanted to go back to Egypt, redefining it as the land flowing with milk and honey. They never got there because they died in the wilderness under God’s judgment. The Christian life is a journey, as allegorized in Pilgrim’s Progress. We are easily beset with fears which test our faith. We don’t make this journey alone; we travel together, encouraging one another.
Hebrews 3:1-6 (NIV) We return to the Book of Hebrews for seven weeks this summer. The author repeatedly presents Christ Before Us. He is to be the object of our attention: “take a good hard look at Jesus” (3:1 The Message). Where is he? He has gone before us into the very presence of God where he now ministers as our great High Priest on our behalf. Therefore we can boldly approach the eternal throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace.
The eternal Son, radiance of God’s glory, left the realms of glory to become human. After his death and resurrection he returned to God’s glory, where he is crowned with glory and honor. But God’s desire is to bring many sons and daughters to glory, following the path pioneered by the Son. Many family histories have skeletons in the closet, people who have brought shame rather than honor. Most of us have our own shame. But Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, or to have us, his younger siblings, tag along behind him. But we do need to keep him in sight.
Hebrews 2:5-9 We have just celebrated Good Friday and Easter Sunday, remembering Jesus Christ, “crucified, dead and buried… On the third day he rose again from the dead,” as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. But there is more: “he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” We tend to forget Ascension Day, but it is a vital part of the story of Jesus. We return to the Book of Hebrews to consider Jesus, who was made low to be human like us, and subsequently exalted as the one true human into God’s presence.
Heb 2:1-4 It’s Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer and start of a new school year. But many students have been back in class for two weeks already. We hope that they are learning again how to pay attention in class. Perhaps their teachers have given a pep talk: “You must pay the most careful attention to what you hear else…” An exhortation to listen and a warning of the consequences for not doing so: “…else you’ll fail the test, your GPA will suffer, and you won’t get into your choice of school.” The preacher to the Hebrews does a similar thing. After presenting the excellence of the Son in whom God has spoken, he exhorts and warns: “We must pay most careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Throughout his sermon he urges us to pay attention to Jesus.