Well, last week the blog was just not happening. I had a sick child and other things to focus on, so I will try to provide some reflections and thoughts this week, maybe I might even shoot for three posts just to make-up some work. Oh…and how about them Eagles! Congrats to all the well-tested and long awaiting Eagles’s fans. Enjoy this one! (I hope Philly is still there…awaiting reports…)
In view of my sermon topic this Sunday, we looked at Romans 4 for those not present at GracePointe church this past Sunday, this passage in Hebrews 2 speaks to the same notions that Romans 3:21-31 and Romans 4 address. First, Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin problem that has enslaved humanity from the earliest time. Second, Jesus’ death is a special fulfillment of the biblical story and releases humanity from that curse of sin. Third, In the Hebrews passage there is great care in selecting the language to point us to the human-ness shared by Jesus; He was one of us, able to accomplish the victory over death by the power of God and providing hope that we too might “run the race with perseverance” and “gain the prize.”
Here is Hebrews 2 (NLT) for you consideration and reflection today:
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
I think about what it means to be a “descendent of Abraham” and how we read the story of the Old Testament as our story as New Testament Christians. As I have said before, the death of Jesus is hard to make sense of unless it is placed in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and their constant struggle of being an “unholy people in relationship with a holy God.”
The main points of this reflection from Hebrews 2 are (1) that Jesus Christ served as the “propitiation” for our sins, that is that he stood in the place of humanity’s sin and took the punishment upon himself. Jesus is our stand-in, our sacrificial lamb…behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Through Christ we are free from the exploitation of sin…but not the struggle, testing, and temptation of a world still waiting for the victory of God to come in full. Which then points us to verse 18, in which we (2) realize that Jesus Christ is not simply the Lamb that takes away sin, but the one who sympathizes and relates to the human struggle. In so doing, Jesus can help us in our times of struggle and testing. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” The Hebrews writer encourages us to enter that rest of Jesus Christ…to pursue it in the daily grind. Today, may we choose to enter the rest of Jesus, who paid our sin-debt and provides help to the weary. Amen.
We must start in the Old Testament, because an important aspect of God’s relationship with his people was God’s presence among them. You might recall that the position of the tabernacle in the midst of the people, representing God’s presence was in the MIDDLE of the camp. Therefore, God’s presence was not marginal or on the fringes, but God was central in his position among the people. (see the picture associated with this post). Now, as we move from tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem something very important happens.
Everything is Described in Proximity to God: Including the Son
Jerusalem is proclaimed as the center of the earth among the Israelites, that is, the city itself serves as a representative of God’s heavenly palace and the Temple itself served as a representation of God’s throne, particularly the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is established by David as the king, the temple, and the city itself are representatives of God’s authority and reign. And so, along with this centrality argument, comes the notion of traveling (or taking a pilgrimage) to Jerusalem and going to the temple, because it is in this city, and in this Temple, that the presence and power of God can be experienced in a more complete way.
As we move to the New Testament, we must understand that God is at the center and the writers of the New Testament, while proclaiming Jesus as extremely important and in fact divine, always place him in a position at God’s right hand. This is evident in the scripture references below. But more than that, we also must be reminded that Jesus himself claimed that God the Father is the ultimate authority. Listen to Jesus explaining his connection to the Father and how those who acknowledge or reject Jesus must face the Father’s authority:
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me
Now, turning to the “right hand of God” passages in the New Testament, the writers pickup a line from Psalm 110:1 - “the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand…” and this becomes a theme repeated in the writings of the New Testament. It is used heavily in Acts, and is also referenced in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Hebrews…among others.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,
But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Who is to condemn? 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.
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2)
My point in showing these passages, extremely vague and out of context, is not to proof text some argument but to understand the language being used and what the language itself expresses to us in regards to Jesus’ authority and position with the Father. The Father is on the throne, and the Son is at his right hand. To understand the image of the right hand, you might want to read through the Psalms as the right hand of God is mighty, powerful, and active to save. However, we must also see that Jesus is positioned in reference to God the Father, making God the Father, not Jesus the Son, the central aspect of not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament as well. In theological terms, we refer to this understanding as “theocentric” and we acknowledge that Jesus’ position and power is given by the Father.
As I wrap things up for this part of our discussion, I want to send you to read the vision of the heavenly throne room Revelation 4 and 5 in which God’s throne is described in chapter 4 and then the “Lamb of God” we know as Jesus shows up in the throne room in chapter 5. Take a look at how the language describes the majesty and power and authority and the relationship between Father and Son.
What I have come to conclude in that the Father must be viewed as central, and all creation and even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is to be described in relationship to the One who sits at the center of our existence and experience. In part 3 of our discussion about Father and Son, I want to go to a very familiar hymn in Philippians and unpack this tightly focused passage.
I had to stop, be still for a moment. I had to catch my breath and unplug. Bog after blog about politics, God, God and politics, Republican, Democrat…and I felt the tug to enter the un-winnable war and to alienate some of my friends, hurt some of my brothers and sisters, not for the sake of the Kingdom, but for the sake of what?? Really...
So, back to scripture and to the fixing our eyes on Jesus. Which reminds me of this verse at the end of Hebrews after the preacher has told us why Jesus is superior in every way to the Old Testament ways and teachings…
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
I often forget that Jesus is not only above and beyond the Old Testament system, but every system of any age, people, place, and nation. Sometimes I get so caught up in Jesus fitting into the system that I forget to ask if the system needs to fit into Jesus. Let’s Consider some of the major aspect of Jesus’ way:
We are surrounded, not by champions or victors, but by witnesses to the faith whom Jesus has made victorious in their death…and it is this group who encourages us in our battle against sin and evil.
Jesus stands as the focal point, being the founder and perfecter. How So? Not through election or a power play, but through enduring the cross and its shame.
Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, earned through endurance and faith. To be with God is the reward for all those who endure and are faithful; first Jesus, then those before us, and now us.
Consider this as we go through life (may want to add the hymn in Philippians 2 as well) for our struggle has not led us to the cross and we have not shed our blood.
The way of Christ is paved through discipline and endurance, Jesus has walked this road before us, others have too and they surround us. So, chin up and chest out, let us not lightly regard the people God wants us to be.
Christians are called to focus on Jesus, to go through life with endurance and faith, and to always remember that God has not forsaken us in times of trouble…for people who go through trouble are often made better through it. They are disciplined. And at the end of the day, I think the world could use a few more disciplined Christians…I’m asking Jesus to make me into one. Not sure what all it means, but I have to trust the one I have made my Savior and Lord. You want to join me?
In Hebrews 6, the letter’s writers show a deep concern for the recipients. Let’s start reading at verse 9b:
We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. 10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. 11 Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. 12 Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.
I can see myself having this conversation with several persons who I want to encourage and inspire to continue in their faith and in their growth. The idea expressed is one that we all try to live…keep on! We keep on in faith so that we will make certain that for which we hope. It is also a safe guard because the text says that when we keep on then we don’t become “dull and indifferent.” Instead of being like that we “follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises.” Ok, this sounds like what I want to be, and how I want to inspire others…but Hebrews also provides the negative side of this…the dull and indifferent side. Let’s read in Hebrews 6:4
4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— 6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.
Wait…impossible! I thought nothing was impossible for God? Imagine if you would for a moment that by chance there is someone who has been enlightened, who has experienced the good things of heaven, who has shared in the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and who has even tasted the goodness of God…that person should be growing and loving and hoping and GOING!
But then we get the kick to the stomach… “who then turns away from God.” So, despite all those things listed above, this person chooses to turn away! And then the Hebrew writer repeats it, “It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance…” How can this be, are we just to despair and morn our loss?
The Hebrew letter gives us an example, let’s read from chapter 6:7
7 When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. 8 But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
When that which comes from heaven is “soaked up” then it produces good crops, and when the things from heaven are not soaked up, then the crops don’t grow and all that is left is thorns and thistles…and so the farmer condemns and burns the field. OUCH!
Now, it is important to be reminded what the basis of this conversation is, which is the opening verses of Hebrews 6:
1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds[a] and placing our faith in God.
So, this is more a call to grow in maturity and less a guide on how to respond to those who turn away from God. However, there are two very clear lessons to be learned. First, we all want to be gardens that produce something good for our farmer God. To do that we need to soak in the gifts of heaven and grow into something God can USE! Second, there are those who grow in a different way in that they grow dull and indifferent and become USELESS to the farmer because their gardens are simply full of thorns and thistles. Thus, given the same opportunities to experience, taste, and grow…they reject God.
This text is clearly urging us to not grow dull and indifferent, but to grow mature and wise. No one wants to plant a useless garden…including God.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.