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.

Psalm 22:1-15 – Responding to Trouble

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death. (New Revised Standard Version)

Christians readily recognize the beginning question of this psalm. Jesus asked it from the cross (Matthew 27:46). Today’s psalm is a heartfelt lament, an affirmation of trust, a call for help, and vow to praise.

Lament

Grieving and lamenting is neither selfish nor sinful. It is necessary. God did it. Job did it. Jesus did it. And the psalmist did it – repeatedly, I might add. So, we ought to do it. It’s biblical. Part of our hard-wiring as humanity is to lament our significant changes and losses in life.

Some folks believe it sacrilegious to challenge, complain, and/or yell at/to God. However, God is big enough to handle our contentions. There are times in life when God seems very distant and aloof, as if the Lord is not paying attention to our plight and pain.

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering. (Job 2:11-13, MSG)

Asking “why?” can come from a belligerent heart, or it can arise as a genuine heartfelt expression of hurt, anger, and wondering. One thing us humans need to become comfortable with is that it is okay to not be okay. Not everything needs to be fixed, even though we would like it to.

Yet, if we don’t understand what the heck is going on, and where God is in it all, pouring out a passionate cry is both legitimate and encouraged.

Affirmation of Trust

It helps when we have a track record of God working in the past. Even if that doesn’t include personal experience, we have an entire human history of God’s dealings with individuals and groups of people concerning deliverance, care, and help.

If we have been in the habit of affirming our faith in God through daily prayers and weekly worship, then trust comes more reflexively and organically.

Be merciful to me, O God,
    because I am under attack;
    my enemies persecute me all the time.
All day long my opponents attack me.
    There are so many who fight against me.
When I am afraid, O Lord Almighty,
    I put my trust in you.
I trust in God and am not afraid;
    I praise him for what he has promised.
    What can a mere human being do to me? (Psalm 56:1-4, GNT)

One of the reasons I like saying the ancient Creeds of the Church together with God’s people is that it affirms and deepens my existing faith. To know that millions of Christians throughout the past two-thousand years, as well as the believers around me today, openly confess and affirm their faith with these words, helps strengthen me for the hard times to come.

Call for Help

One of the best prayers we could ever pray is “Help!” For many people, asking for help is a humbling affair. It smacks of weakness, perhaps even neediness – as if it’s a sin to not always be strong or be dependent on another.

Scour both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and you will not find weakness or dependence to be sin-worthy. It’s just the opposite. Delusions of independence and strength are signs of misplaced pride which believes we ought to be able to handle any situation. God wants us to ask for help when we need it.

The wicked are too proud to ask God for help. He does not fit into their plans. (Psalm 10:4, ERV)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7, NIV)

I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, GNT)

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:5, NLT)

Vow to Praise

Whenever we go through difficult times and come out the other side, it is important to tell our story. The sharing of stories deepens our faith, as well as edifying others. And then, down the road, when another event upends our life, we can recall the faithfulness of God in the past.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

 Those who are far from you will perish;
    you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:25-28, NIV)

There will be pain and suffering. There will also be victory and glory. The ways in which we engage the seasons of hardship will determine the trajectory of our spiritual lives.

Times change. God is forever the same. May we tether ourselves to eternal mercy. Amen.

Psalm 55:1-15 – Pray as First Response

God, listen to my prayer;
    don’t avoid my request!
Pay attention! Answer me!
    I can’t sit still while complaining.
    I’m beside myself
        over the enemy’s noise,
        at the wicked person’s racket,
        because they bring disaster on me
        and harass me furiously.

My heart pounds in my chest
    because death’s terrors have reached me.
Fear and trembling have come upon me;
    I’m shaking all over.
I say to myself,
    I wish I had wings like a dove!
    I’d fly away and rest.
    I’d run so far away!
    I’d live in the desert.
    I’d hurry to my hideout,
    far from the rushing wind and storm.

Baffle them, my Lord!
    Confuse their language
    because I see violence and conflict in the city.
Day and night they make their rounds on its walls,
    and evil and misery live inside it.
Disaster lives inside it;
    oppression and fraud never leave the town square.

It’s not an enemy that is insulting me—
    I could handle that.
It’s not someone who hates me
    who is exalted over me—
    I could hide from them.
No. It’s you, my equal,
    my close companion, my good friend!
It was so pleasant when
    together we entered God’s house with the crowd.

Let death devastate my enemies;
    let them go to the grave alive
        because evil lives with them—
        even inside them! (Common English Bible)

We all likely know he modern day proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets oiled.” The saying is often used in reference to someone who is loud, even obnoxious, about what they want. 

In today’s psalm, David cannot avoid the squeaky wheel. There are people in his face and all up in his grill. The only thing we know about David’s enemies from the psalm is that they were nursing a grudge against him about something. David was hurt and betrayed.

So, David prayed. He pleaded with God to hear his prayer – to not hide from his plea for mercy. David desperately wanted the Lord to respond to his terrible plight. He couldn’t sleep. He had racing thoughts. He was hyper-vigilant. He was downright anxious. David felt the ache of people speaking against him. For whatever reason, they had an axe to grind and were determined to make David’s life difficult.

Although, like David, we sometimes feel like flying away and being at rest from the turmoil, we must deal with the insults, the false rhetoric, and half-truths of others. 

The way David confronted the problem was primarily through prayer. Whenever David prayed, it was never a quick on-the-run sort of prayer to God in the rush of dealing with all his kingly duties. Instead, David offered specific, agonizing, timely prayers, asking, even begging God to not let the violent speech and actions of his enemies prevail.

David was committed to maintaining peace, equity, and justice in the public square. In those times when injustice reared it’s ugly head, David’s first response was to pray.

Out of the range of possibilities we might do in response to slander, gossip, backbiting, threats, and general sins of the tongue against us, prayer needs to be the primary tool to face it all. Heartfelt, passionate, detailed, and pointed prayers can and must be offered to the God who hears the righteous in their grief. 

If you are in such a position of being oppressed by another, a sage way to begin addressing the situation is through praying the very same psalm that David did when he was under duress.

The biblical psalms are prayers which are meant to be prayed as our own. There is no such thing as praying them too often. It is always open season on praying the psalms for our own contemporary purposes.

The prayers are more than personal. They are public, as well. Violence, strife, iniquity, trouble, oppression, fraud, and injustice effect the entire community. Our prayers can and must include asking God to put an end to all this awful muck.

It’s one thing to have some schmuck we’ve never met make a disparaging social media comment against us, or some random persons spout baseless lies. And it’s quite another thing when it is someone close to us, a trusted friend who turns on us.

God cares about our adverse situations. Unlike fickle friends, the Lord is a faithful companion who will neither leave us nor forsake us. The New Testament affirms and encourages prayer to God in anxious times:

God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him.

1 Peter 5:7, CEV

Jesus modeled a life of prayer in response to injustice, suffering, and belligerence.

“Into your hands I entrust my life.” (Luke 23:46, CEB)

“I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world but keep them safe from the evil one.” (John 17:15, CEB)

May we know that loneliness is far from us. God is with us, always and forever. Amen.   

Listening God, you hear the cries of the righteous. Give ear to my plea. I cry out to you for respite from those allayed against me.  I ask for justice in my life and in the public square so that the wicked and the unrighteous do not have their way in this world, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Job 8:1-22 – Face the Pain

Job Speaks with His Friends by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Are you finally through with your windy speech?
God never twists justice;
    he never fails to do what is right.
Your children must have sinned against God,
    and so he punished them as they deserved.
But turn now and plead with Almighty God;
    if you are so honest and pure,
    then God will come and help you
    and restore your household as your reward.
All the wealth you lost will be nothing
    compared with what God will give you then.

Look for a moment at ancient wisdom;
    consider the truths our ancestors learned.
Our life is short; we know nothing at all;
    we pass like shadows across the earth.
But let the ancient wise people teach you;
    listen to what they had to say:

“Reeds can’t grow where there is no water;
    they are never found outside a swamp.
If the water dries up, they are the first to wither,
    while still too small to be cut and used.
Godless people are like those reeds;
    their hope is gone, once God is forgotten.
They trust a thread—a spider’s web.
    If they lean on a web, will it hold them up?
    If they grab for a thread, will it help them stand?”

Evil people sprout like weeds in the sun,
    like weeds that spread all through the garden.
Their roots wrap around the stones
    and hold fast to every rock.
But then pull them up—
    no one will ever know they were there.
Yes, that’s all the joy evil people have;
    others now come and take their places.

But God will never abandon the faithful
    or ever give help to evil people.
He will let you laugh and shout again,
    but he will bring disgrace on those who hate you,
    and the homes of the wicked will vanish. (Good News Translation)

These are the words of Bildad, a “friend” of Job. The guy just couldn’t take it anymore. As Job expressed his deep grief, Bildad grew perturbed. Whereas Job needed to be heard, to tell his story with others who would offer listening ears of empathy, Bildad was uncomfortable with all this grief junk and felt he needed to rebuke Job…. Oy vey.

There are various kinds of suffering, and the biblical character of Job experienced them all. One of the most severe kinds of hurt, and the one that gets far more attention than any other in the book of Job, are the short-sighted rebukes from Job’s “friends.” 

God had a severe mercy for Job. The friends, however, lived in a black and white world of either/or – either you confess your sin, or you don’t – as if all suffering is connected to personal sin. Bildad’s left-brained linear explanation was expressed this way: God will not reject a blameless man.

For Bildad, personal suffering equals personal sin and God’s disfavor. Bildad could only see a sequential connection, a direct line from sin to calamity. It was simply out of his equation to think otherwise. Since Bildad saw suffering as the direct result of sin, his remedy was to exhort toward confession of sin. 

The problem with this view is that we, as the readers, already know this to be a patently false understanding of Job’s suffering. Although Bildad saw the suffering, he did not discern the unseen dimension of good and evil contending behind-the-scenes between God and Satan.

It is only normal to wonder if we have sinned against God whenever finding ourselves in the crucible of suffering. But if we have done patient work to determine there is no personal reason for the pain, perhaps there is something going on that is much bigger than us. 

Our task, like Job’s, is to entrust ourselves to God. We might chafe at such counsel because we like to fix things that hurt. Suffering, however, will not last forever; it will eventually pass. And God’s way will always prevail, in the end. So, we must continually keep in mind that permanent faith transcends temporary pain.

There are four types of pain we experience in this life:

  1. Spiritual pain that arises from within us in our connection, or lack thereof, with the divine.
  2. Emotional pain that arises from our relationship with others.
  3. Physical pain that arises from our bodies and from natural forces on this earth.
  4. Mental pain that arises from cognitive disorders, childhood trauma, and all forms of abuse or neglect.

In all pain, the story we tell ourselves about the reason for the hurt is significant. We have a relationship with our pain. If the story we are telling ourselves is that the pain is all in my head, or that others have it worse than me, we are ignoring or stuffing our pain. If the story is that pain is bad and I must rid myself of it, then we will completely miss what our pain is trying to tell us.

Job was trying to come to grips with his pain. He was facing it, talking about it, expressing his wonderings concerning it, and allowing himself to completely feel all of it.

Conversely, Bildad so tightly held onto his own story about what pain and suffering is that he was unable to be the friend Job needed. And, I might add, at the end of the story, God didn’t look with favor on Bildad’s approach.

So, what will you do with your pain?

What is the story you are telling yourself about your pain?

Who do you trust so that you can talk about your pain?

Where is God in your pain?

How is your current relationship to the pain helping or hindering you?

Where will you turn, in the future, when pain comes upon you?

Loving God, take pity on my life as I seek to embrace you in both good times and bad. I belong to you; therefore, I will not forsake you, no matter how much I do not understand the suffering. Amen.