Wednesday, October 18, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Hebrews 5:1-10

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Lesson: Hebrews 5:1-10
1 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

A Few General Comments:
1. Hebrews is one of the most interesting--and potentially confusing--books of the Bible.

2. While it's often called a letter, Hebrews, in fact is a sermon or a lecture.

3. Traditionally attributed to Paul, he almost certainly was not its author. Whether examined on the basis of rhetoric, vocabulary, thought world, sentence structure, likely date, or presumed audience, nothing would indicate that Paul delivered this address.

4. In terms of language and knowledge, this is among the most sophisticated of New Testament books. Probably only two books attributed to John--the Gospel bearing his name and the book of Revelation--reflect an author as steeped in Greek philosophy and the Old Testament as does the author of Hebrews. In fact, Hebrews has a lot more in common with John's writings than it does with Paul's.

5. The earliest likely date for the composition of Hebrews is 70AD. It appears to address second-generation Jewish-Christians considering abandonment of faith in the risen Christ. By this time, Judaism was apparently more acceptable in the dispersed Roman Empire. In addition, overt persecution of Christians was beginning, with more widespread "cleansing" on the horizon.

Hebrews encourages Jewish-Christians to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, not only because He is, as Jesus says in John's Gospel, "the way, and the truth, and the life," the One by Whom the human race gains access to God, but also because:
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over. [Hebrews 4:6-8]
6. These early Christians felt themselves assailed not only by persecution, but also demonic attack. This latter reason lay behind why Hebrews speaks of the superiority of Jesus--and of human beings--over angels.

7. Throughout, Hebrews seeks to demonstrate that:
  • Jesus was both the second Person of the Trinity, the Three-in-One God before the beginning of history and the High Priest, called by God to that function during His time on earth.
  • God understands our suffering because in Christ, He has endured it Himself. He can sustain us in our suffering because He has suffered.
  • The Old Testament rituals and the temple gave God's Old Testament people copies of heaven by which they could, through faith, anticipate God's ultimate self-disclosure.
  • In Jesus Christ, God has fully revealed Himself and given all with faith in Him access to His help today, as well as to eternity.
More, including some discussion of the mysterious Melchizedek, tomorrow, I hope.

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