Salvation is done, our work is not
I was listening to the local Christian Radio station this morning, and noticed something that I’ve always found has bothered me. The preacher began the program just as you’d expect- some upbeat, but not overly modern music, and the announcer introduced what was about to be spoken about, and then you hear a sample of what was coming. And sure enough, the preacher was in the Old Testament, talking about how great God is, and how nothing is impossible. That way, when the trials of life come, people can face it knowing God is their fortress, and thus they will be victors. And this is the very thing that irked me within. Not because it was wrong, per se, but because it certainly wasn’t something that hasn’t already been said, week after week, and by the same preachers, always talking about the same things to encourage the same people in the same way. Out of the man hundreds of pages of Scripture, for some reason the same types of sermons always seem to come out, and nothing detailed or deep ever seems to show up anymore. And I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, wondering what it is that is truly bothering me when I see and hear these things. It is with this in mind that I began studying through Hebrews, albeit in a rather general manor, to find why the writer said what he did about Christ, the priesthood and the Christian. And what you find when you go through this book may at first be confusing, or at the very least too detailed, but the more you study it, the more it begins to reveal the true issue at hand…
The writer is unknown, but the general subjects of this book are not (hopefully). Although often overlooked, the writer goes into such detail from the very beginning, starting with the most important of points. Long before he gets to Hebrews 11 to talk about faith and those who came before, he starts by talking about Jesus as a priest.
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
Now I would like to point out five things about this introduction, as it is clearly a bit unique from the rest of the letters in the Bible. Instead of starting with a general introduction (i.e. “Paul, and apostle…”), the writer begins by going right into the main subject at hand. He does not start lightly, but starts with the most important subject in the whole of Scripture: “God.” This may seem a bit strange to note, but really, it is quite significant. How often does our day start like that? How often does our Sunday start like that? Why do we get up? Why do we read the Bible? Why do we even bother with life? There are many options to choose from, but only one right answer when it comes to the Scripture. If we do not do all for the glory of God, then that amount of Godless action is utterly burned up in the end, and is useless altogether. So this begs the question: “What about God?” Well this leads to my first of five points:
The Prophets (vs. 1)
These are the men God spoke to and from which we have received the Old Testament, or more specifically, the Old Covenant. But what were they for, exactly? I mean, by their very title they were simply men who “talked,” essentially just telling other people what God said to say. So why were they so cruelly treated? Why did most of them die, of whom Stephen says to the Jews, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become…” (Acts 7:52) This was because they were not only called to speak, but called to represent. They were shadows and echoes of something to come, giving the Law and commandments as “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come,” which was something Paul emphasizes specifically, primarily because “the substance [is] Christ.” (Col. 2:17) And such was the primary purpose of the prophets, as well as the priests and commands, showing what was needed and giving a clear layout of the One who would come to actually fulfill it.
The Creator (vs. 1-4)
Who would fulfill these things? “Why, the Creator of the world!” said no religion ever. On the contrary, so many would have a man of great power and authority do such things, but never would they degrade their god to such a lowly position. The gods of men require the efforts of men, and create men to accomplish their works, since they themselves cannot possibly do such things, much less would they for sinful man, since they (the gods) are absent of any love. But God, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,” (Eph. 2:4) sent His Son, who we see here is the Creator of Heaven and earth, and thus goes beyond the extent of any so-called “god” of man, in that He provided a Law and Covenant which only He could keep, for the purpose of establishing the need for the most important requirement of the Gospel, that being faith. And so here we have the Creator of the world coming down to do just that, and to die at the hands of His own creation, for which He died so that they might believe (John 3:16-21). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-17)
Holy from Angels (vs. 5-7)
Here is interesting thing to note: the prophets were angels. No, they were not glowing and blonde-haired men with wings, nor were the angels from Heaven (angelic beings), they were, by the true meaning of the word, “messengers from God.” They were indeed sent by God for a holy purpose, to declare the Word to the people that they would obey Him and be saved from their enemies. But these angels of earth died, and were a group of men who struggled with “keeping with it.” What about the angelic beings? God did send them, but they too were not the perfect solution, seen both in the rebellion that took place after the devil, and the fact that they are so scarcely seen in the Bible when you consider it, truly. And it is by contrast we see Christ clearly, in that He was not only the One of whom the angels (earthly and heavenly) looked for, but was set apart (holy) long before the earth and angels were ever created. This is incredibly important, in that so often the Old Testament is the focal point of traditional preachers, and angels and heavenly experiences the focus of the modern “Christian,” to the extent that they miss the point of both of these things. Because more than anything, Jesus was able to do the one thing no one else could: complete the work at hand. He “sat down,” indicating the perfection (absolute completion) of the Old Covenant, and thus the establishment of the Gospel was set, and that until the end of the earth.
He Lives (vs. 8-14)
The Prophets died. All of them. They perished by sickness and the sword, and none of them came back from that death. But the Lord was risen from the dead, showing not just some mere miracle, but a conquering of death, something which no man could ever do. He, being God and the Creator, was able to die for those who sinned, and conquer death for those who could not, and thus live for those who would come, being a mediator between God and man, being both the fullness of God and man (son of both). And thus He has been given a position above all others, being given promises of authority over the world that no angel in heaven or on earth could ever have anticipated, being the coming Judge which the sinner dreads.
And thus the writer of Hebrews begins, and not lightly nor generally, but very specifically. Because he goes on with the same thrust of theology and the Gospel, going then into Chapter 2 by telling the church to pay closer attention. If the Gospel is so extensive in its detail, how can we who call ourselves believers not see the need to understand all of these details? Indeed, they are necessary, contrary to the (apparent) belief of so many who sit in the pulpits today. Why? Because we are “prone to wander,” and indeed wander farther and farther away if we do not “pay much closer attention to what we have heard.” It is not only possible, but is now sadly common in the church, that so many “neglect so great a salvation” not seeing that “the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience [receives] a just penalty.” (vs. 2-3) And God Himself proved the accuracy of this Gospel by provided signs and wonders to validate it, and by the Spirit Himself. And yet this doesn’t seem to make a difference within the church. Oh yes, they do love the Gospel, in so far as it allows them to live a comfortable life without conviction of sin. The Gospel has become an anesthetic to guilt, and nothing more. This is why the majority of the quotes you will see on social media, and the vast majority of sermons in the pulpit are on the base areas of the Gospel, dealing with sins past, but not pushing any farther. People love the idea of being “saved from sin,” but hate the idea that this requires something of them by the very nature of genuine repentance.
And so the writer goes on in Chapter 2, detailing further how Jesus humbled Himself, detailing how He completed that work of salvation, and what that looked like. Then in Chapter 3 we see another command that is obvious, but again, so often overlooked. “Consider Him!” So many people I have seen in the modern church (i.e. megachurches with their grand displays of wealth) would say “Yes! Consider the Son of God who is love!” and then go onto some song about love and mercy. But notice the titles ascribed to Jesus here. “The Apostle (messenger from God) and High Priest of our confession.” (vs. 1) How theological! How detailed! Because it is in these titles that we could spend days, if not weeks, simply getting a simple grasp on, seeing them more clearly displayed through the Word, and indeed throughout our lives, if we are living by the Word. The writer goes on to show how this was seen in the Old Testament, how the people of Israel did not “consider” God, despite all the signs that had been shown to them, for theirs were the bodies that were scattered across the wilderness, rotting away in the heat, because they had rotted away in their head, not studying and learning more of the God whom they followed, and what He required of them, caring only for their flesh, which ultimately led to their death. And so we are told to “consider Him,” and to do it “Today!” Because too often we say “Oh yes, theology and doctrine are important! I’ll be sure to get to them next week.” And such is our theme until we die, and what a pity that is, because we live our lives so lacking that we never truly see how until it is too late. Because true belief is seen in how the believer perceives the Word, in that he sees the importance of understanding. “Belief” and “understanding” must not be utterly absent in the Christian life, for such would be a dreadful sin.
And finally Chapter 4, leading us to a rather applicable and significant point of eschatology. How many use the Gospel as an excuse to sit back? To live a rather normal, unhindered life, expecting nothing more than a common level of comfort. And what is sad is the fact that so many strive so hard to live so comfortably, and to appease conscience they must make an effort to show the trials they have in life. “I got coffee this morning and it was cold, and then discovered my whites had been mixed with my colors so my shirt is a rainbow, and then I got stuck in traffic,” not seeing that they have coffee to get them through that normal day, wearing untorn clothing and driving in a vehicle, as opposed to walking in the cold wind and rain. We seem to feel completely comfortable comparing getting stuck in traffic with being shipwrecked like Paul in the sea, as though we are required to find pain in order to justify such a lavish lifestyle that we are so privileged to live in. And as the nation begins to slip away into the hands of ungodly, wicked men, the church panics, seeing that these comforts are being taken away, never seeing that it is God taking them, giving the world all of its lusts and desires, so that it might tear itself apart, being the greatest form of judgment in the Bible. In other words, we are not at rest here! The rest that we have is in the Gospel, yes, but we have not yet fully experienced that rest, largely due to the fact that we have yet to die. This is why the Bible so urgently tells the saints to stand firm- such a statement expects confrontation! And this is why he tells us to “hold fast our confession,” because “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”! (vs. 14)
And so now we find ourselves here at Chapter 5. And it is from here that we will make our way through in detail, as we consider Him who is the Highest Priest…
To be continued