Hebrews 5:1-10 – Our Great High Priest

Mosaic of Jesus Christ in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (New International Version)

The New Testament letter of Hebrews is perhaps the most Christ-centered book in all the Bible. If you like Jesus, or are at all intrigued by him, this is the best place to go, outside the four Gospels.

Hebrews deliberately points out and exalts the supremacy of Jesus Christ over the Old Testament prophets, the angelic realm, and even Moses and the Law. And, as today’s New Testament lesson insists, Jesus is superior to the old Levitical priesthood because Christ is our salvation. His priesthood is from a different and better order.

With all this talk in Hebrews about Christ’s superiority over everything, some might expect a focus on his deity. Yet, it is the humanity of Jesus which gets the most attention. The actual lived experience of Jesus on this earth is the highest qualification there is to intercede between God and us.

Jesus, as a true bona fide human person, had to learn obedience just like the rest of us. He went through all the hardships and sufferings of life, too. Jesus was dependent on prayer, just as we are. And he was heard by God the Father because of his reverent submission.

One of the great deceptions which can befall Christians is that Christianity is all about strength, victory, and glory. That, however, is only part of the story. If Jesus needed to learn and grow by means of suffering, then how much more do we need to be spiritually formed through the adversities, challenges, and heartaches of life?

Jesus Christ proved himself through his obedience to God. Even though he himself was God, he submitted himself to being human with all of it’s limitations, weaknesses, and pains. Through it all, Christ maintained perfect submission and obedience to the will of God.

All of this means that Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, is eminently qualified to be our great high priest. Jesus can relate to us. Jesus knows us. Jesus understands what it’s like for us. And Jesus has dealt with the endemic issue of guilt and shame once for all through the cross.

So, what does this mean for you and me? Without a realization of who Jesus is, what he did for us, and continues to do for us, we easily take Christ for granted and slip into spiritual lethargy – and perhaps even spiritual self-loathing – and needlessly suffer in loneliness and despair.

The truth is: Jesus Christ loves us. He has become our high priest, the one who is able to intercede for us – constantly taking our prayers and advocating for us to God the Father.

Let Christians everywhere be reminded that we serve a Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Spirit – who conspires to do what is best for us, at all times. There is a divine community of three persons, the Holy Trinity, who work seamlessly and with perfect unity to provide deliverance from sin, death, and hell. The God whom we serve is both willing and capable to meet our most pressing needs.

Here are 17 ways we can live into being mature Christian believers who are spiritually growing in the grace of God:

  1. Realize God has called you to be holy and righteous and has given you everything you need to do so. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
  2. Be an integral part of a Christian faith community so that you can be encouraged and encourage others. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Listen to the counsel of others and discern what is good and what is not. (Philippians 1:9-11)
  4. Stick to a consistent regimen of Bible reading and Scripture study. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
  5. Find good books to read and go through them carefully. (2 Timothy 2:15)
  6. Seek to obey Holy Scripture with all your heart. (Psalm 119:89-96)
  7. Persevere and keep growing spiritually. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
  8. Pray continually, realizing your utter dependence on Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  9. Always look for ways to praise God and serve Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)
  10. Consider the consequences of your words and actions before you say and do them. (Galatians 6:7-10)
  11. Enjoy God and God’s people. (Philippians 4:4-9)
  12. Understand that the Christian life is not always easy. (Philippians 1:27-30)
  13. Be patient: Spiritual growth and maturity take time. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
  14. Use the spiritual gifts given to you for the benefit of others. (Romans 12:3-8)
  15. Make plans with other like-minded persons to become spiritually self-disciplined. (Proverbs 27:17)
  16. Pursue genuine and intimate spiritual friendships. (2 Corinthians 7:1-4)
  17. Engage in spiritual conversation and prayer around the Bible’s contents and message. (Colossians 4:2-6)

Gracious Father, we pray for Christ’s Church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.

John 15:16-25 – On Facing Hatred

 The Face of the Savior by Noehani Harsono

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (New International Version)

In his earthly ministry, Jesus suffered on this earth. He was hated, persecuted, and killed. Although Christians readily recognize this, somehow we still seem surprised when, following Jesus, there are people who downright dislike us. 

Yet, Jesus clearly and unequivocally stated that we ought to expect persecution. Emotional, psychological, verbal, and even physical abuse can and does occur against God’s people who seek to follow the words and ways of Jesus. 

There was a time in the first few centuries of the church that becoming a martyr for one’s faith was welcomed. It was considered a privilege to imitate Christ in his suffering and death.  Even many modern day Christian martyrs around the globe have estimated martyrdom as an opportunity to experience solidarity with their Savior.

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

This kind of thinking may sound quite strange to Westerners who tend toward the notion that, if we do everything with excellence and effectiveness, then there will be no reason for persecution and suffering. 

However, the Christian reality is that Jesus promised his devout followers that there will indeed be those who seethe with hatred toward us. We are not above our Master. If he suffered, we will, as well.

So, the question is not whether we can or ought to avoid suffering. Rather, our consideration needs to be how we will respond to the inevitable persecution of verbal violence, physical violence, or both – not to mention the various forms of discrimination, abuse, and oppression we might face.

“They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”

Martin Luther

First off, there is no honor for any Christian suffering because of one’s own stupidity or obnoxiousness. If we face persecution because we have initially made others suffer through our bullhorn presentations of the gospel, or metaphorically clubbing groups of people with oversized King James Version Bibles, then whatever consequences come are of our own making and have nothing to do with being united with Christ.

And second, paying no attention to the real human needs of people locked in poverty or dismissing the body as secondary to the soul is a gross misrepresentation of Christ – not to mention the sheer ignoring of multiple books in Holy Scripture which point to caring about such things.

If, however, we endure abuse because of being humble, merciful, gentle, pure in heart, and an unflinching peacemaker amid conflict, then we can enjoy the smile of heaven. If we communicate good news with grace and compassion, seeking love-laced words of truth, along with genuine acts of mercy – and then are repaid with unmerciful oppression from prideful persons – then we understand the type of hate Jesus faced.

We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope. (Romans 5:3-4, CEV)

The genuine article withstands the test of adversity. It doesn’t fall apart in the vigorous agitation of the first washing. People who oppose Christians with persecuting words and actions need to discover an authentic believer who is ready and willing to absorb the hatred, repackage it as love, and along with the gospel of grace, gift it back to the persecutors as an offering to God.

Experiencing the hatred of others is not the worst thing which could ever happen. Knowing Jesus better is of utmost value – even if, at times, comes through the worst of circumstances.

God, who shows you his kindness and who has called you through Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, will restore you, strengthen you, make you strong, and support you as you suffer for a little while. (1 Peter 5:10, GW)

Almighty God, thank you for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, on my behalf.  Just as he suffered for me, I willingly suffer for him, since his infinite grace has delivered me from sin, death, and hell.  I only ask to be found faithful at the end of the age when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  Amen.

Hebrews 2:5-9 – Christ is Qualified

It is not to angels that God has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (New International Version)

Christ’s suffering qualified him to unite people.

By Christmas eve of 1914, World War I had come to the point of trench warfare. On one point along the miles of trenches, on one side were the allied troops of French and Scots, and on the other side, Germans. That night, a Frenchman began singing Silent Night. Eventually his comrades joined in. Much to their surprise, the Germans on the other side of the trench, recognizing the familiar tune, began singing the song in their native tongue, along with them. The Scots then joined in with their bagpipes.

After the song, heads began to stick out from the trenches. Both sides realized they had a common celebration in song. This led to white flags going up on both sides, and then the unthinkable happened. Both trenches, allied and axis powers, enemies of one another, left their holes in the ground and met in the middle, exchanging pictures, and communicating with each other. The evening was capped off with the Scottish chaplain leading all the men together in a celebration of communion. The 2005 movie, Joyeux Noel, recounts the actual events.

Whenever we come together, expressed for the Christian through the sacrament of communion, it puts our differences in their proper perspective – we all come together as one, not seeing each other as rich or poor, black or white, American or Asian, or anything else.

The events of that Christmas eve in 1914, however, did not have a happy ending. The two sides found that, once the holiday passed, they did not have the will to fight their new brothers. The top brass on each side were upset and sent the Germans to the Russian front (and certain death); and the Scottish chaplain was defrocked for his actions and sent home never to pastor again, letting us see in dramatic fashion that unity has a price.

The book of Hebrews was originally written (or preached) to encourage and exhort struggling Jewish Christians. The author pointed them squarely at Jesus. The people were in danger of forgetting what the pioneer and champion of their salvation had done for them.

What’s more, they were in danger of reneging on their commitment to Christ. So, the entire book is dedicated to demonstrating and reminding discouraged believers that Jesus Christ is superior to everything, both in heaven and on earth.  Because of that truth, Jesus is worthy of our eternal devotion and remembrance.

Jesus is qualified to be our Savior and Lord. Every day and each minute of our lives are an opportunity for a fresh commitment to Jesus.

The regular practice of Christian communion and consistent spiritual practices are meant to lead us into celebrating our Savior’s work. The worldwide communion of saints is celebrating with us in remembering and committing ourselves afresh to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

A great victory has been won, not just in the trenches of human wars, but on the cross of Christ. This singular death on our behalf qualified Jesus to be our Savior from sin, once and for all.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our Savior.

Jesus suffered an inglorious and ignominious death. Yet, paradoxically, glory came through suffering. Jesus did not only suffer at his crucifixion; he experienced the full range of human suffering throughout his life.  He knew what it was like to face adversity and hardship. It is Christ’s suffering that helps us make sense of our own suffering.

We can only truly be free from all that binds us by embracing that which makes us suffer. And because we live in a fallen world, we all personally suffer in some way. In addition, entire groups of people suffer – whether it is religious persecution, racial profiling, class warfare, or government oppression. This suffering is very real, damaging, and dehumanizing, resulting in terrible living conditions and even death.

Maybe because of this reality, some tend to minimize their own suffering. After all, what is a harshly worded e-mail, trying to lose a few extra pounds, or an unexpected car repair compared to families devastated by COVID-19? It is all suffering none-the-less.

It is good to keep our life situations in proper perspective; and we must be careful to not tell God what he should and shouldn’t care about in this world. If the only things that matter and qualify as hardship and difficulty is human trafficking, the terrors of war, or grinding poverty, then you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. Happy with-it Christians are insufferable, (pun intended).

We must find commonality and solidarity with Jesus in our own personal and corporate suffering. An admission of weakness, trouble, hardship, or suffering is neither a lack of faith nor the unpardonable sin. Identifying with the adversity of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world can be transformed into suffering that has meaning and significance. Our temporary sufferings now will someday result in the glory of being with Christ forever.

Christ’s suffering qualified him to be our compassionate helper.

Through the death of Jesus on the cross we have victory over Satan and all his wicked spirits.

I have heard more than one motivational speaker say: “If you could do one thing in your life and not be able to fail, what would it be?” The truth is, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we have victory and can live our lives in confidence and commitment to Jesus.

Temporary failures and failings are not the end of the story. We possess a union with Christ because of the cross. Jesus is our champion. He stands with us in our suffering and temptations. 

In solidarity with all who suffer, along with brothers and sisters who agonize throughout the world, we have the blessed opportunity of bringing our troubles to a gracious God – thus finding forgiveness and hope. 

May your burdens be lifted, and may you know Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again. Jesus knows you because he tasted death for you – and for everyone.

Merciful Lord help me to remember in these troubled times the cross you carried for my sake so that I may better carry mine and help others do the same. Since you tasted death that I might taste life, I forever belong to you and offer up all that I am and all I hope to be to the glory of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

**Above picture: Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Psalm 36:5-11 – Monday of Holy Week

Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
    or the hand of the wicked drive me away. (NRSV)

We have a Holy Week because of love. There is a journey along the Via Dolorosa (traveling through a place in route to a destination) because of God’s steadfast love.

Love suffers. Every parent knows this. Because of a parent’s committed and faithful love toward a child, they feel not only the joys but also the sorrows and pain of their children. I can say that this feeling does not go away, even with adult children. And it is compounded with grandchildren. Just as our love is big enough to hold multiple children and grandchildren, so our capacity for experiencing deep emotion for their welfare is equally large.

Holy Week reminds us that God’s committed parental love suffers. It is because of God’s immense and steadfast love that there was a road to the cross and a tortured death for Jesus. The cost of our salvation involved a very bloody affair. Deliverance came at the price of horrible violence. Jesus Christ lived and died for us, because of love. He suffered much because he loved much.

God’s people, walking in the way of love, quickly discover that it is simultaneously walking in the way of suffering. From Old Testament times through the New Testament and into the present day, the faithful have always experienced suffering as a central part of their piety and devotion in showing steadfast love. 

The medieval mystics of the Church understood well the connection between suffering and love. They could not imagine a Christian life without hardship, difficulty, and persecution. Thomas à Kempis, a sort of pastor to pastors, wrote in the fifteenth century these words:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world. And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention…. When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment…. It is when a man of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil that he best understands the overwhelming need he has for God, without whom he can do nothing…. It is in such times of trial that he realizes that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”

And yet, it is because of love that suffering is transformed and endured as something wholly other than sheer pain or hurt. Thomas à Kempis went on to say:

“Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it, or ill-fortune cast it down…. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength; love sees nothing as impossible, for it feels able to achieve all things. Love therefore does great things; it is strange and effective; while he who lacks love faints and fails.”

Holy Week’s message is certainly one of suffering love. Jesus went to the greatest lengths possible to give Divine steadfast love to humanity. So, let us not run away from the cross, but journey with Jesus to Golgotha, embracing the love of God for us. In so doing, we will find the inner resources needed to love the world, even in all its unloveliness.

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, though in our weakness we fail, we may be revived through the Passion of your Only Begotten Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.