Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Reading Through Hebrews

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. This post quotes from the book The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All written by Raymond Brown. My analysis of the letter to  the Hebrews is in black below. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The title of the "Letter to the Hebrews" would indicate that the audience must be Jewish. This makes sense because a great Old Testament knowledge is assumed. They may have been immature Jewish Christians (5:11-14), intellectually convinced but uncommitted Jews (10:26-29, 12:15-17) or unbelieving Jews (9:11-15). Possible original destinations of the letter could be Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem or Cyrene. The author of Hebrews, as Origen said, “only God knows.” The author must have been a 2nd generation Christian (2:3) who was very familiar with the Old Testament, well known to the readers, close to Timothy and closely tied to an apostle. 

The letter was written to show that Jesus is the final superior revelation of God and a superior way to approach God and to encourage believers to remain faithful and not fall away back into Judaism. The letter to the Hebrews may be a sermon explaining the significance of Psalm 110. Knowledge and appreciation of Jesus Christ is essential to Hebrews Chart colorpersevere in faithfulness. The message of Hebrews is "Don’t turn away from the superior revelation and ministry of Christ. Just Jesus is Enough."

The prologue describes Jesus as Superior as the ultimate revelation of God‘s image, power and authority. (1.1-3). Chapters 1-4 name Jesus as the ultimate king. Therefore we must be vary careful to listen to Him, submit and follow His example. (1:4-4:13) The rest of chapter 1 shows that Jesus is superior to the angels. He is the King. They are only His ministers. (1:4-1:14) Therefore we should pay close attention to Jesus’ message and submit to it because it comes with superior confirmation and His superior authority. (2:1-4)

We need a vision of Christ with these immense cosmic dimensions, a Christ who transcends all our noblest thoughts about him and all our best experience of him. These first-century readers would be less likely to turn from him in adversity if they had looked to him in adoration. The opening sentences of the letter are designed to bring them and us to our knees; only then can we hope to stand firmly on our feet. 1.1-3, 32

The first readers of this letter were reminded that, in a world characterized by change, they could be assured of the companionship of the changeless Lord Jesus Christ. 1.4-14, 43

We can allow these great truths to be lost, however majestic their presentation in Scripture or perfect their revelation in Christ. Unless we give ourselves to them, we too can drift along, carried by alien currents into dangerous waters, or lose something infinitely precious. 2.1-4, 47

Jesus has earned His superior kingly authority because He not only expressed perfectly the image and authority of God in human form, but He also triumphed over suffering, temptation and death to be the savior of the people who would be His subjects. (2:5-2:18) Therefore we should follow Jesus’ example of faithfulness, not Israel’s example of unfaithfulness, (3:1-4:13) because He provides a higher calling than Moses and when you trust and obey you enter into the fullness of God‘s rest and grace.

As our pioneer, he has gone through all this in advance of us. His feet have moved through that lonely territory of death and he has triumphed over its power for us. The forerunner (6:20) has gone on before us and those who know him have nothing to fear about the future. 2.6-9, 57

All too often sin, ignorance or apathy keeps us from what we ought to be and can be with his help. We live well below our spiritual potential. If, through his work for us, we are sanctified, then let us see that our daily lives are ‘set apart’ so that what he achieved may be not only an item of theology, but a fact of experience...The Christian who has hours of time for leisure but no time for some practical work for Christ in church, college or community, is hardly sanctified in any practical sense. What is potentially there needs to be practically implemented. 2.11-13, 64

Disillusionment, loneliness, moral frustration and emotional despair lead some seriously to contemplate the possibility of putting an end to it all. But the one who endured the world’s greatest suffering, the bearing of human sin and separation from God, and yet triumphed, is certainly able to help anyone who turns to him. He is able to help us in our moment of fierce temptation. 2.14-18, 73.

If we are to progress to maturity in the Christian life, some time in each day must be devoted to a careful consideration of the person, teaching and work of Christ...This letter to the Hebrews invites us to apply our minds and offer our adoration to Jesus, the apostle sent from God to meet our need, and the priest who has entered into God’s presence as our eternal saviour, present intercessor and constant friend. 3.1-6, 78

Worship must be expressed in action as well as in language. Those who choose to ‘come into his presence with thanksgiving’ must also come with attentiveness (‘hearken to his voice’) and obedience. 3.7-11, 84

With God things can always be better, and Christians ought to be the first to say so. It is far from easy for many believers to live and witness effectively for Christ in contemporary society. Every Christian ought to be able to count on the cheering encouragement of his fellow believers. To make that possible, every member of the body of Christ should grasp opportunities in every day to speak the uplifting word and do the supportive thing for his Christian partners in Christ. 3.12-19, 88.

It is true that no believer can hope to achieve his own sanctification no matter how hard he tries. It is God’s work to make us holy. But neither can any Christian hope to be conformed to the likeness of Christ in his everyday life simply by making sure that he does nothing about it. It is a strenuous, costly business to be a Christian. Believers must strive to enter the rest of the people of God (4:11). 4.1-13, 90

The message of one who has gone before as pioneer and priest is a word of immediate relevance. Christ’s essential work for man has been effectively accomplished. Our part is to hear, believe, obey and share this word of abundant life. 4.13, 92

The next major section (4:14-10:39) shows that Jesus is the ultimate High priest with a superior ministry to bring us into the presence of God. We must respond by working hard to grow and using the access to God He provides. First, Jesus has superior priestly qualifications because he was directly appointed by God, He has experienced all the human issues we must deal with, and He is the perfect sacrifice and the eternal source of salvation. Thus, we must move on to maturity to avoid uselessness and loss of reward and to gain fruitfulness, hope, assurance, and reward. Instead of being too immature to fully experience the high priestly ministry of Jesus, we must move on to maturity by taking in the Word and applying it to daily life.

We dare not be prayerless. In the trials and temptations of life we find comfort in the deep assurance that ‘Jesus knows’, but our author’s exposition of the high-priestly ministry of Christ includes an invitation to follow him with boldness into the holy place...To neglect the place of prayer is to rob ourselves of immense and timely resources. For the Christian the throne of grace is the place of help. 4.15-5.3, 96–97

Following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do. 5.9-10, 102.

Many people casually drift into a low standard of Christian life simply because they minimize the importance of Christian instruction and disciplined Bible study. Quite possibly on most days they quietly ponder a few verses and say a quick prayer, but it does not occur to them that this is not nearly enough. Failing to acknowledge their need of it, they slowly lose their desire for it. Somehow or other, however busy he or she may be, every Christian needs to find a regular opportunity for serious study of the Bible. 5.11-14, 105

We depend for our salvation not on our love for God but his love for us, not on our commitment to him but his pledge to us, not on our hold on him but his grasp of us. 6.7-8, 115.

Christ is our prodromos. He has gone ahead of us. He prepares our way to glory (2:10). With such a leader who has opened the way through his own sacrificial death (10:20), there is no room for anxiety regarding his future purposes or doubt concerning his former promises. With such an anchor here and such a priest there, we must not fear and we need not fail. 6.16-20, 122

Secondly, Jesus has a superior priestly ministry. Faith in Jesus alone is the best (only) way to come to God.  (7:1-10:39) Jesus priesthood is better because it is eternal, saving, and complete and he advocates for us from the throne room of God, providing unlimited access to God. (7-8)

The necessary authentication for Christ’s priesthood is not a legal requirement like physical membership of a specified tribe, but his vindication and attestation by God at his resurrection...The saving work of Christ has introduced a better hope and it is by this way, and this way alone, that we draw near to God. 7.4-10, 130

Christ can save his readers from sin, fear, disobedience, apostasy and apathy. He is the author of their eternal salvation (5:9), which means that he is the source of their present salvation. He rescues us, not only in the moment of initial commitment, but day by day and moment by moment. We must constantly renew our trust in him, knowing that he will never fail us. 7.27-28, 139.

We may feel crushed, dejected, bewildered or broken, but our eternal salvation has never depended on our vascillating moods or our changing circumstances. Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary; ‘once and for all’ he offered his blood for us. There he has appeared for us and now he is praying for us. We are ever remembered at that throne and our names are enrolled in heaven. 8.1-5, 146

Jesus sacrifice is superior because it provides once-for-all cleansing and forgiveness. It is complete and sufficient to pronounce us perfect and make us holy. Therefore, you must use the access you have in Christ and persevere in your faith. Hold on to His promises and encourage one another to trust and obey as we meet together. Don’t throw away past success. Endure and enjoy your full reward. (9-10)

Hebrews reminds us repeatedly of the assurance of pardon. God’s people enjoy the privilege of undeserved remission and eternal security. Their sins are remembered no more and their names are enrolled in heaven. This is the staggering message of a better hope, of a new covenant and an eternal redemption.  9.1-10, 154

Serving the living God is not to be understood as undertaking some occasional duty, or even regular responsibility in Christian work. The word used (latreuein) depicts ‘the service of a sacred ministry of complete surrender’...The redeemed of the Lord do not only ‘say so’, but offer something more than words, important as they are in witness and worship. Gratitude for our redemption must also express itself in willing surrender to God’s will and loving devotion to God’s work. 9.11-14, 160

Our past sin is forgiven: a death has occurred which redeems. Our present access is assured: Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. Our future inheritance is imperishable: those who are called … receive the promised eternal inheritance. 9.18-22, 167

The judgment theme emerges time and again in the letter, bringing its own sense of urgency and seriousness...The Christian seeks constantly to sharpen the focus of this eternal perspective. He knows that a day is coming when everyone’s work will be exposed. In determining any course of action in life he pursues not merely things which gratify man, but those which glorify God. 10.15-18, 182

Jesus himself, the greatest of all prophets, insisted on consistent behaviour as well as correct teaching. What is the use of acknowledging his lordship with our lips if it is not evident in our lives? 10.19-39, 183

Our writer urges his readers to remember the lasting things. Christians need to remember that adversity is rarely a vicious enemy; it is often a valuable ally. It reminds us of the imperishable things which matter most of all. 10.32-35, 192–193

The final section (11:1-13:25) shows that the believer’s response to this superior revelation must be a life of faith, grateful worship and service to God with practical expressions of love toward one another. Faithful, persevering life is the proper response to the superior person and ministry of Jesus Christ as shown by the faithful in the OT. We must follow Jesus’ example of a faithful, hopeful life that serves others despite persecution and difficulty. This faithful life is seen through specific, practical acts of faithfulness, love and submission to God and his people.

Those who, like Enoch, wish to draw near to God, must encourage their faith to give constant expression to two great facts about God—his existence and his generosity. They must not merely believe intellectually that he exists, for without that faith would be meaningless. Belief in his existence means commitment to his presence and involvement in every part of our lives. 11.5-6, 201

In the early Christian centuries many believers read a work now known as The Shepherd of Hermas. It contained this highly relevant exhortation: You know … that as the servants of God … your city is far from this city. If then you know your city in which you are going to dwell, why do you here prepare lands and costly establishments … Take heed, then, make no further preparations for yourself beyond a sufficient competence for yourself as though you were living in a foreign country. 11.13-16, 209

If those who need his help will but seek God’s face, they will not cry in vain. He delights in choosing those who seem most unsuitable and using those who seem most rebellious. 11.32, 221

The richer provision ought surely to inspire us to better faith and more costly sacrifice. If these courageous and devout sufferers achieved so much when, comparatively speaking, they had so little, then there must be no limit to our service. The opportunities are innumerable and the resources are limitless. 11.39-40, 224–225

If particular members are at fault, then the spiritual responsibility for putting the matter right rests on the whole congregation. Every Christian has some pastoral responsibility for his fellow Christians. It needs to be given practical expression in warm encouragement, sensible advice, prayerful sympathy, supportive fellowship, and the regular sharing of spiritual truth, as well as in mutual correction. 12.15-17, 241

The believer knows that in the presence of that bright light all his sins are exposed. He also rejoices that mercifully, in its refining flames, they can also be consumed. 12.28-29, 247

This verse is not only a challenge about the occasional use of the home for meetings, but also about the regular ministry of the home for hospitality... It is more necessary in these days than ever. With the serious breakdown of family life and the erosion of home stability, young converts particularly need ‘parents’ in the faith. Love which is merely vocal is in danger of becoming mainly sham. 13.2, 250

The superb final prayer of this letter assures these believers that things can be different; the God of peace can mend that which is torn and repair that which is broken. 13.20-21, 269

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