The Letter to the Hebrews, our reading of which, according to the Bible Companion, starts today, might well be called the letter of the great unknown. No one knows who wrote it. Away back in the third century the early Christian theologian, Origen, said: “Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? God alone knows”. How then did it become attached to Paul’s name? When the New Testament came to be put together as a book, the test of what was to get into it was whether it had been written by an apostle, or at least by someone who had been in contact with the apostles. No one knew who had written Hebrews but it was seen as far too great and far too valuable to omit and to lose. So it was, as it were, put under the protection of Paul, the great letter-writer, and was included with his letters
Five hundred years before the writer to the Hebrews wrote the letter, Plato the Greek philosopher had spoken of a doctrine that left a deep mark on Greek thought. He had spoken of forms or ideas. There were, he said, the perfect ideas, the perfect forms, the perfect patterns, the perfect archetypes of all things laid up in heaven. Everything on earth was a pale and imperfect copy of these forms and ideas; and the task of life was to get from the world’s imperfections to heaven’s perfections, to get from earth’s unreality to heaven’s reality. As the writer to the Hebrews saw it, in Jesus heaven’s perfection had come to earth.
Before Jesus everything had been fragmentary and ephemeral (1:1) but Jesus is greater than everything that went before. He is greater than the angels (chapter 1). He is greater than Moses (chapter 3). He is greater than Joshua (chapter 4). Everything that had been foreshadowed and hinted at came to perfection in Jesus.
But in one respect, in the greatest of all things, this was especially true. The priest had a very special position in ancient religion. The Latin for priest is pontifex, which means a bridge-builder. The priest was the person who built a bridge between God and man. In particular the Jewish High Priest had a very special function on the Day of Atonement. No human being ever went into the Holy of Holies in the Temple, except the High Priest, and even then, on only one day in the year. The priest on behalf of the people went into the presence of God. To the writer to the Hebrews the ancient priesthood is only the imperfect shadow of the real thing. Jesus is the real priest, the priest who himself can go into the presence of God and who can open the way for others to follow.
So the writer to the Hebrews tells how Jesus is the perfect priest. Two things are necessary for any priest – having sympathy with people and being divinely appointed (chapter 5). That was supremely true of Jesus.
There are things which show the obvious imperfection of the old priesthood. The old priesthood had to offer sacrifice for its own sins before ever it offered sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus does not need to do that because he has no sin (7:27). The old sacrifices had to be made over and over again, day in and day out throughout the years. But the sacrifice Jesus made is made once and for all and never needs to be made again (10:1-3).
The imperfection of the old sacrifices is obvious. If they were really effective, they would not need to be made over and over again. The blood of animals can never really make atonement. But Jesus is not only the perfect priest, he is the perfect offering too; and the offering he brings is himself and his perfect obedience (10:5-14).
There is nothing surprising in this because the new covenant, the new relationship to God, had already been foretold (Jeremiah 3:31-34; Hebrews 9:15-18) and the new kind of priesthood, the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-21; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7) had already been foretold too.
So Jesus is both the perfect priest and the perfect offering and therefore, in him, the way to God is open wide. So for the writer to the Hebrews two things are to be said to the Christian:
First, let us go in. The access to God is wide open because of what Jesus the great High Priest has done. Let us then draw near (4:16; 10:19-22).
Second, let us go on. Those to whom he was writing had become a little weary, a little regretful for what they had left, a little discouraged and they were on the verge of turning back. But to them there comes the invitation to go, not backwards but forwards, and to go in faith (5:11-6:12; chapter 11). For those of us who may, in the environment of the current pandemic, have become weary and discouraged, this is a strong exhortation for us to go on, to persevere:
“10 God will not forget all that you did, and the way in which you showed your love for him in your past and present service of his dedicated people. 11 It is our earnest desire that each of you should allow the same eagerness in your efforts to reach the full and final realisation of your hope. 12 You must not become lazy. You must take as your examples those who through faith and perseverance are entering into the promises of God.” (Hebrews 6:10-12)
So then we can take to heart the twin rallying-calls of the great unknown who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews: let us go in and let us go on.
Now things are starting to open up again we're getting our freedom back; we're allowed to meet with more people, eat out in restaurants, do 'non-essential' shopping. Hopefully soon things will be back to what we previously knew as 'normal'.
Back in the Old Testament, when God chose his people Israel, he gave them a set of rules to cover things they could and couldn't do. The basics were written in the 10 commandments but there was a lot more detail besides that. Over the years, the rulers of Israel continued to add to the rules – so much so that Jesus accused them in Luke 11:46 of “load[ing] people down with burdens they can hardly carry.”
We know, however, that Jesus came to release the people from all those rules and give them freedom. The people were burdened by the idea expressed in James 2:10 that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” What a relief to hear Jesus’ new message of freedom.
Paul summed it up in Galatians 5:1 when he said that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Not only are we eagerly awaiting freedom from Covid restrictions, but also “we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” The way we express that faith is through love, so as we march towards new physical freedoms let’s also show our spiritual freedom through love.
M and RC
Two things sprang to mind straight away, my work and my unworthiness or guilt!
I've been in Pharmacy for 40+ years and the first 30 years were by and large good but over the last 10 years the profession has got progressively harder and harder. It's not just Covid, but staff cuts and increased workloads have greatly increased the stress levels for all staff. Customer expectations as well, "I ordered my prescription yesterday, is it not ready yet?" Only last week I was verbally abused and felt threatened by a customer whose prescription wasn't even with us yet from the doctors: he thought I was keeping it from him. Increased stress and pressure of work lead to a tired body, both physically and mentally and dim my light too! Some might say that stress however is a lack of faith, if we truly put our trust in God then we shouldn't worry but that's still a work in progress for me.
Life can be hard at times can't it? Do we at any time think or feel that when things go wrong for us that we are being punished for our sins? It's probably quite normal, blame someone else, but it's certainly not accurate. God doesn't punish us when we fail, in fact He says,
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1 v 9
God is a God of love,
"But you, my Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy; you are very patient and full of faithful love." Psalm 86 v 15
We all make mistakes, some more than others We rely on God's grace, which connects with my second bowl, my feelings of not being worthy.
First of all, what is God's grace? It's the love and mercy given to us by God, not because we deserve it or have done anything to earn it but because God desires us to have it. So straight away that feeling of unworthiness shouldn't come into it, we can never really be worthy!
I'm sure we're all truly thankful for God's grace in our lives, and for ourselves we're so thankful for the love and support of our Brothers and Sisters in the Kendal and Edinburgh Ecclesias.
With all this in mind, the next day I put my music on and the first song played went like this:
"What reason do I have to wake up with the rising sun
And not be held down by the weight of all the things I've done?
What reason do I have to feel this hope instead of hurt?
How can it be I don't receive the judgement I deserve?"
The chorus continues with the answer –
"Wave upon wave of grace upon grace
Endlessly washing my sins away.”
Soon after another song:
"Now the man who needed grace still knows how to make a mess
There's never been a day that you found me perfect
All the grace just keeps on showing me exactly what it is
A gift that goes to those who don't deserve it
And nothing I could ever do
Compares to what's been done for me"
It's amazing, God's love for us and the hope that we have through the Lord Jesus.
I read an acronym for GRACE: God's Riches at Christ's Expense.
Don't think I've heard that before, what do you think?
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God —
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:4 - 10
The gift of God, is it then an excuse to continue to sin? Paul tells us in Romans 6 "God forbid". Of course it's not, a wilful desire to continue in sin shows a lack of understanding of God's abundant grace and contempt for Jesus' sacrifice. But that "God forbid”, is that a straight no or is it actually a "Why would you want to do that?" Sin hurts us, it destroys relationships, our health, our finances, our jobs, our emotions, the list goes on and on..... Why would we want to continue to do that? However at times we still do!
I know I should do better, I'm sure we all could to some extent. So what can we do to make our lights shine brighter for those around us?
:- Smile - a great way to share your light, you never know how much you can brighten someone's day with a smile.
:- Be there for a friend - your light could lift them from a dark place they might be in.
:- Be positive - negativity is everywhere so if we focus on being positive and showing our gratitude then hopefully we can be a light to someone.
:- Listen carefully - most listen to respond rather than listen for the sake of listening to help someone.
:- Give genuine compliments - words have so much power, they can make or break someone's day. Compliments share kindness and compassion.
:- Give to charity - give what you can, not out of compulsion but out of sincerity and generosity.
I'm sure we can think of plenty of other ways to shine and do better in our life in Christ.
God created us in His image, He wants us to live a happy life and spread His light and joy to those around us. He doesn't want us living in darkness, instead be a light to those around us and be happy with the life He has given us.