Sunday, September 19, 2010

So Great a Jesus: A Summary of the First Four Chapters of Hebrews

[I always feel I have to explain these posts on the Letter to the Hebrews. My way of reading Scripture is to read and reread a passage, and then re-state it in various ways. I am a firm believer in this re-stating of Scripture. I do this for myself, primarily, as a way of imbibing these truths of God more deeply. It involves much repetition, and much going over of familiar ground, so I can understand why it may not necessarily be all that enlightening for others. Still, I put the process on display here at WF, just in case someone might be helped by it. What follows is simply a summary in my own words of the first four chapters.]

God has spoken to us through his Son. He has done this through what his Son taught, and through how his Son lived; in other words, through everything his Son said and did. The "message" of the Gospel, the good news for a fear-burdened people facing death on all sides, is just this: all that God's Son, Jesus, said and did. We must pay closer attention.

Remember the Israelites. They followed Moses, who spoke for God, in search of the promised land. But often their trust ran out. Their trust ran out by the side of the Red Sea, with Pharoah's army bearing down. their trust ran out in the desert, where they feared starvation. Their trust ran out even at the brink of the promised land, when they heard the stories about "giants in the land." In all these cases their fear of death conquered their trust in God, despite his many miraculous interventions on their behalf.

The author of Hebrews put is this way: he says their fear of death caused them to harden their hearts. Hardening their hearts equates to not trusting God and therefore not listening to God and therefore disobeying God (even despite all that He's done and all that He's promised). This fear of death causes them to harden their hearts, not hear the message of God, and "fall away" from the calling to which they have been called. Which is to say, their destiny of rest.

The people of God always face this same problem. The fear of death causing unrest, leading them away from their promised land destiny, and leading instead to all kinds of restlessness. What comes of this are things like bitterness, loneliness, anxiety, harshness, frenzy, and an ever deepening and devastating hardness of heart.
Therefore, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
A lot depends, therefore, on paying attention to the message spoken to us by one greater than Moses, through signs greater even than those witnessed by the Israelites in the desert. Pay attention to this message. Lean on it. Live in it. The message is a promise of rest, through Jesus.

We share in a heavenly calling, but we walk through a desert. There will always be the temptation not to trust God, but to lean instead on some frail reed. Fortunately, Jesus, whose very name is salvation, and who was tempted in every way, and having won every battle and defeated death, is able to help us when we, through fear of death, are tempted. He is our hope. He is our rest.

All of God's promises are summed up in Jesus, our rest. Rest is associated with fulfillment, but even though we do not see the fulfillment of all God's promises just yet, we can have a foretaste of all that the Kingdom of God shall be, and "rest" is as good a word for that as any. Therefore,
Today, of you hear his voice [that is, the message of Jesus: all that he taught and all that he did], do not harden your hearts.
In other words, listen. Pay attention. See. Hear. Taste. Stand in awe.

Finally, a warning. "The word of God is living and active." Think of this phrase, "word of God," as a kind of stand-in for God all that God is and all that he does. The ESV Study Bible note puts it this way:
Usually this phrase in Hebrews refers to the message of salvation (13:7; cf. 4:2), but here the “word” is pictured as God's personal utterance, living, active, sharp, piercing, and discerning (v. 12), with eyes that expose (v. 13). The Word of God then acts as God himself, so that one's innermost thoughts and intentions are exposed. This happens constantly in Christians' lives.
Do not harden your hearts, as if to fend off the piercing and discerning action of God. This surgery won't kill you. Better yet, pay closer attention to all that He has been for you, all that He is for you, all that He shall be for you. His name is Yeshua, which means "salvation." Do not neglect so great a salvation.

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