Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Priest we all Need

In our journey together through the book Hebrews, we saw our author introduce the major theme of the whole letter (2:14 to 3:1) that is the high-priestly work of Jesus. Then (3:1 to 4:13) we were informed of more reasons for the readers, and us, to consider Jesus as our great high priest. Now from 4:14 we discover more.

Jesus, coming to us in our humanity, knowing limitations just like us, experiencing temptations like us, now has passed through the heavens.  A human like us is now in the heavens!  Therefore, let us …. he urges the reader, urges us. He avoids using forceful commands in the letter like “you must”. The many warnings are forceful enough. So we find so many let-us’s in this letter! His bold compelling urge is to hold fast our confession,  hold firmly to the faith we possess. It is God’s urgent urging. (4:14-15)

Hold fast.Don’t let go of what you have experienced, what you know, confess, profess, possess, what you live by, what you live for. This can happen either by subtraction (losing it) or by addition—adding foreign ideas, new fads that are alien to the word of God. How awful to lose what has been entrusted to us. How appalling it is to see how little of God’s wonderful design is seen in today’s Christianity which has been so corrupted and subverted by pagan and worldly ideas, the ideas of men.

Think about it! Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses!  In fact he in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. He was not 50% human—he was 100% human, like us, when he came here.

So (4:16), let us boldlyapproach his throne. Jesus sympathises with us and yet he rules, rules with absolute authority! And let’s draw near with confidence (bold faith) because it’s the throne of grace where mercy and grace are freely available. Grace is not merely “unmerited favour”— a common misconception. Grace is what God supplies to help us in our neediness. So what are we waiting for?

The enemy’s accusations can obstruct our approach, causing us to withdraw from the presence of God instead.  But the Holy Spirit’s conviction is specific and actually points us to Jesus and his death for us—the remedy! Satan’s accusations are vague, throwing whatever he can at us. Jesus shows us how to resist, gives us sufficient grace to overcome, showers mercy on us. Let’s not be put off.

In Hebrews 5:1-3 we learn from our Jewish teacher-writer that a Jewish high priest is human and weak—such a person can be gentle and understanding. And that a high-priest does not appoint himself. Like the Jewish high priest, Jesus is human, he knows human weakness, he deals gently with us and Jesus is God’s chosen one.  But in Jesus, there is a massive difference: Jesus needs no atonement for himself, but he atones for us all. He suffers for our benefit. A human priest can never do this. It is essential to know Jesus, not merely to know about him. He is alive.

Jesus was chosen as our high priest after a completely different order to that of the Jewish order—after the style, the pattern, of that mysterious figure we meet in the book Genesis, Melchizedek.  We learn (5:5-6) that this different order of priest is eternal, and comes out of God Himself (a “Son”) to us, into our humanness.

One of the most fascinating of the Dead Sea Scrolls is “Pesher Melchizedek”, written in ancient times by members of the Jewish Qumran sect and hidden for 20 centuries until its discovery with the other scrolls in 1948. In this amazing scroll, Melchizedek is a historical figure who is portrayed there in the roles of kingly messiah, priestly messiah, messiah of the spirit, end-time judge, and even God! What a combination.

Jesus experienced human limitations (5:7-9) and came in our human weakness to the extent that he needed to pray constantly and passionately, loudly, tearfully to God who alone could save him from death (If it be your will, let this cup pass from me! And My God, why have you forsaken me … into your hands I commend my spirit).

We learn that even he, a Son, learned obedience through what he suffered and like us, was involved in a process of being made perfect. The (Greek) word translated perfect in v.9 means ‘complete’, ‘finished’.  This most significant process was finished and necessarily here on our earth, in human form, so that he at last becomes the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

And there is no other one named who can guarantee this eternal salvation—not in all history, not in any religion.

Note carefully : this salvation is to all who obey him. We must hear him and keeping hearing and obeying him.

Let’s all have a rest : Hebrews 3-4

In Hebrews 3 and 4,  our author has another warning to give us!


Here is another Hebrew-Jewish concept—the ‘rest’. It’s a motif from the great story of God’s mighty rescue in the Exodus event. In that story, there is an ever repeated promise to the Israelites, of a safe, secure, and fertile land they could call home instead of being eternal wanderers.

Yet surprisingly (or perhaps, not so surprisingly) though they had witnessed God’s wonderful rescue from Egypt and enslavement, they failed to trust God and were not permitted to enter the promised land (the ‘rest’). They wandered and perished in their wanderings.

Our author sees this rest as a ‘type’ for Jesus’ followers to be at rest in Him and with Him and to have ended all our religious labours and strivings to be okay with our Lord God. It’s another way of explaining the glorious New Covenant of Jesus

He warns :

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

Turning away from the living God—it can happen to any of us. So the Lord in His ever-wondrous design provision, has planned for us to be a member of his body, that is, we must be joined to a living body.

Did you know that the word member in times past always meant just that—part of a  living human body? In fact this old meaning still survives in the word dismembered when we refer to someone having lost a limb.

Nowadays, the word member has changed so much that its use in biblical texts has become totally misunderstood and interpreted as having a name on a data base. That’s a deplorable loss. Membership in Christ’s Body is so much more than that.

For starters, it is the essential anti-fall-away remedy! Why it’s so important to be often in the company of cheerful brothers and sisters who look after one another—that’s true worship!  It’s God’s design to grow us. Encouragement!

This community, like all the apostolic groups we find in the NT scriptures, did not have a pastor or priest, no professional Christians over them, a practice out of whack with Jesus’ new wine, the New Covenant. No, they were ALL responsible for the watching-over, for encouraging one another and the growth of one another.

They were reminded by the writer, as brothers and sisters—this is a family, like a household—to have continual and consistent contact with one another.

This had to be done in such a way that each could be encouraged daily not to fall away, that they would not fail to enter God’s rest, that freedom of the Spirit, that transforming grace that ends all futile attempts to be holy and instead brings God’s ways supernaturally rolling into their/our hearts and minds.

In so many ways, the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ people can be blocked by clergy presence. The clergy/laity divide is an utterly foreign idea to these people of the apostolic period. It was a later addition and as a consequence, a subtraction, a declension, from God’s great design for our edification and growth into maturity.

We either continue in ignorance with traditions ignoring the word of God, or else we think we know better than God, we think our ways are more practical and efficient.


When I was a practising architect, to arrive at a building site and discover that the builder had “improved” on my design to change room sizes or window positions, was insulting and discouraging. How much more insulting and contemptible it is to God to ignore His great design for our growth into maturity.

And we must stick with His design plan while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If we don’t, sin may fool us. When we first became his people, we were sure about Christ, so let’s hold tightly to our faith and God’s plans until the end and encourage one another (13-14).

Our author reminds his readers that it is by faith that God’s people enter this wonderful rest—a state of assurance and joy with total cessation of striving to please God by what we do.  Ceasing concern over whether we are good enough or that bad stuff, whatever that is, can keep us from the break.

Time to truly love God as he surely loves us. Here is another warning for them and for us too: Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

This ‘striving’ is a striving of faith, not of our efforts or our good works. To fail to believe, to trust him, is to disobey. It is to hold his wonderful design, grace and love in contempt. We will not able to enter His rest because of unbelief.

The promise to enter the place of rest is still good (chapter 4:1-11), and we must constantly take care of one another that none miss out.  We have heard the message, just as those early Israeli pioneers under Moses in the desert did. But the many failed to believe what they heard, and the message did not do them any good.  Only people who have faith will enter the place of rest.

We should do our best to enter that place of rest, so that none of us will disobey and miss going there, as they did (11).

What God says is certainly alive and active! His word is actually sharper than any kind of top quality sword. In fact, it can cut separately through our spirits and our souls and separate our joints and marrow, until it exposes the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to use the author’s surgical metaphor (12-13).

So you see, we can’t hide anything from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth, own up completely, one day.

So, it’s today, not tomorrow, dear friends, ‘cos tomorrow will never come, eh?


A bit more from this little-read book, The Letter to the Hebrews

In chapter 3:1—4, the writer compares Jesus with Moses, who was for Jewish people the highly esteemed prophet par excellence, who received the Law, the Torah. Moses is described here as faithful in managing God’s household, God’s oikos.

Our author addresses his hearers as those God has chosen us to be his holy people, his household (Greek: oikos). His house.

Ever been called holy? We are holy if we belong to him. Under the New Covenant, God’s brilliant new agreement with His people, there are no holy buildings, no holy furnishings, no holy sites, no holy lands, no holy vestments, no holy books.

In the New Testament writings, there are only holy people!

Hebrews 3 says we share together in a calling that is simply out of this world.

Note the togetherness motif: we share together. We are not just a number of individuals. God’s true people are not consumers in a religious shopping complex for some kind of mystical therapy. No, we share together, in fellowship with our Father who has provided Jesus as our wonderful high priest, and we help one another.

God’s oikos, His household, his family.

For God’s sake let’s stop all this silly, insulting talk about going to God’s house as if God means earthly structures! That’s garbage.

They were asked to consider Jesus, to fix thoughts on Jesus, rather than Moses! This was such a radical step for faithful Jews, many of whom could not bring themselves to see that a greater one than Moses had come.

Moses told God’s people what and who would come in the future. (3:5). And now that future is here and, surprise, the true builder of this household is identified as Jesus! Jesus the builder.

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, Jesus astounds his disciples saying he will be the builder of his gathering (church, ecclesia). He is the builder, not men. Not bishops or popes or TV megapassionates. Jesus the builder has not left the job to men. No way!

Rejoice. Christ is the Son in charge of God’s people, oikos, household (3:6). And that’s who we are, his people, if we keep on holding fast, being brave, bold and not losing hope, despite opposition, cynicism and unbelief on every side.

oikos? see

Man : glorious, pure, perfect

We continue our weekly exploration into this unique but little-read book, The Letter to the Hebrews. We found these gems in the first couple of chapters.

God has spoken to humans!In the past His words of grace and mercy to his people Israel abound in the Old Testament (1:1) in a tremendous variety of methods: prophets, visions, dreams and so on.

But in these ‘last’ days God has spoken by an actual ‘son’, a one out of the eternal God and at the same time, miraculously, by becoming one like us, in human form (1:2).

God has surely spoken! Thisis the ultimate way for God to speak to us, coming in person, face to face, as a human being, born of a lowly girl and into a troubled society under the domination of a foreign power. It leaves us in no doubt about what God is like and what he has done for us.

Just think! God has visited us in human form. This one described as heir of all things, the creator, in the exact image of God himself, thus a son, the sovereign king, the purifier from sin, one superior to angels—has come in humility and servant-like and now gone (1:3-4). Gone, to the place of absolute sovereignty. Gone, but left us such a glorious deposit of the revelation of the eternal One. Gone, but yet wonderfully in touch with us!

So, we MUST pay the closest attention to this deposit of truth! This is worthy of our fullest attention. This message is so serious, so much is at stake, such a great salvation—a much more significant message than those who came before speaking of God’s acts.  We cannot treat this with apathy. It is not an optional extra to a full agenda of interests. It demands our full attention (2:1-2). Urgent.

How can we escape awful consequences if we treat this message with apathy or disinterest? Jesus is the total answer for us, not just for the Jewish people but also for us (2:3).

As Frank Viola says “Christ is All, everything else is commentary”.

Jesus himself first brought this message—that’s enough, in person! And those who heard him gave the word to us—they were eyewitnesses of the blazing truth that had erupted before their eyes (2:4).

They saw what God did as well as said—amazing signs and wonders with gifts of the Holy Spirit upon his people (2:4).

2:8: The important question for all humanity arises from Ps 8:4-6:

“What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?

            You made him for a little while lower than the angels;

            you have crowned him with glory and honour, 

            putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

That question raises another one—how come humanity is not seen like this but in turmoil?

But we do see it in the man, Jesus! Humiliated for a time, tasting death for us and but risen from death and NOW crowned, exalted, with all in subjection to him. (2:9) And he is one of us! A human.

He who was worshipped by angels (1:6) was for our sakes made a bit lower than angels. Such a great humbling! Imagine the enormous trouble that God has gone to, in his great love for us to bring us back from death and defeat.  He has not abandoned the world. He suffered.

That’s not all. The world that is to come will be subject to Jesus, a man, a human being, not angels. One of us—a servant king who has established his worth, his credibility before our eyes. This king is different, worthy, gracious, loving, caring. He ticks all the boxes.

We are given in 2:10, the first of three reasons for his coming to save his people, in this passage: the pioneer of our salvation was made perfect through suffering—and that’s wonderfully fitting. Why? Because he came on an equal footing to all of us! He had no advantage. He underwent a process of maturity, of finishing, of complete completion.

There’s more! In v.11 we find that our saviour is of the same origin as us. We are one family—he is unashamed to call us brothers. This is sensational.  No wonder this shook the world of man.

Again in vss.14-15, we are given another reason for Jesus’ death—to break the power of our enemy who holds the power of death and set free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. This has taken place. Isn’t that enough to sing and shout about?

To do this, Jesus had to become like us, fully human in every way, (2:17). See the huge stress on his humanity—he experienced our limitations and he was, 2:18, genuinely tempted.

That means he is able to help those who are being tempted. He will help us in our temptations and trials because as a human being like us, he has been here, not in breathtaking glory and majesty but in lowliness and servant-like. He knows our frailty, understands our situation. He faced suffering, abuse.

Isn’t this truly awesome?