Bible readings Psalm 51:1-12 and Hebrews 4: 14- 5: 9
June 6th 1889 a cabinet maker in Seattle accidently overturned a glue pot starting a fire which went on to do a lot of damage in the then wooden city that was springing up. The city decided that rather than repair the buildings they would build a new brick city over the old one. Trevor, Scott and I visited the underground city in 2017. Until it was complete some businesses had buildings on both levels and people used ladders to go from one level to another, eventually the new was finished and the old was shut down until it was resurrected for tourists several years ago. The first take on the city of Seattle was damaged by fire so they simply begun again building over the old one.... they learned from what they suffered and became something better.
When you look at the events of the last week and when you look back over history it makes you wonder why God didn’t just scrub this creation and start again? Hold that thought.
Today we’re in the 5th chapter of Hebrews having started a few weeks ago. A quick recap… the author of Hebrews is unknown as is the audience apart from the fact that they appeared to have been a group of Jewish Christians who had gone through a time of persecution. Hebrews was written to them as a sermon. A sermon that was arguing that Jesus was more exceptional than Judaism as many of them were falling away from Christianity and returning to Judaism. So far, the writer has pointed out that Jesus, is fully human and fully divine, is more exceptional than the angels and more exceptional than Moses and he’s calling the people to listen for God’s voice, today, in the midst of everything and to hear what God is speaking through Jesus. Today the writer’s arguing for Jesus being more exceptional than the high priests of the Jewish faith, but why’s that even necessary?
It takes us back to our earlier question, why didn’t God just scrub the messed-up creation and start again? Well, being as I’m not God, I can’t fully answer that, but our writer gives a couple of clues with two words found in verse 8 and 9 … learned and became... Jesus, God’s son, learned to trust God through his suffering (obedience) and as a result became the source of eternal salvation for all who trust (obey) Him.
Zooming out now and looking at the big picture the writer seems to be saying a couple of things. Firstly, salvation was no easy thing for God to achieve and secondly it involved a whole lot of suffering even for God in the shape of Jesus.... but it still begs the question why did God want to redeem (or fix) creation?
That could take years to answer, but it centers around God’s original intention. God created a world that was good, a world without sin. Gen 1:31 tells us “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!”
But God also created us with a free will. As one commentator says “Once God made a universe of creatures with free will, he bound himself to all that and to all the complexities that would be attendant on dealing with such beings. God wanted to maintain the original integrity of all that he made and so he could not just look at the wreckage of a fallen world and decide to lay down a whole new layer to start over…The pieces had to come back together in ways that would still honour God’s original intention for creation..”
And what did God’s original intention look like? That we would use our free will to choose to trust God and work in partnership with God in caring for creation and each other. That we would choose to use our free will to follow what God asked of us… that we would learn and we would become most fully what God created us to be....
Sadly, our desire to use our free will and do it our way wreaked and continues to wreak havoc for creation. Romans 5:19 tells us “Because one person [Adam] disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person [Jesus] obeyed God, many will be made righteous.”
Our writer wanted his audience to understand that salvation had been no easy task for God, it was something only God could do... as Scott Hoezee points out “The suffering that afflicts this world had to be met head on and on its own terms. It had to be absorbed by the One being who would not be consumed by it. History’s endless cycle of retaliation and vengeance had to be snapped and it could only be snapped by Someone’s absorbing all of that evil and having the enormous strength to NOT hit back and so perpetuate the sick cycle. More than that, the One who effected this salvation needed to show all the other creatures that he was not above it all, that his was a very knowing, empathetic salvation.”
Jesus can bring great comfort in times like we’re in at present because the things that shock us to the core, the presence of pure evil in our midst wreaking havoc for innocent people, Jesus has lived and died... as v 4:15-16 (Msge) says read with me “Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all— but he did not sin.”
God suffered immensely to bring about our salvation but now that God had the writer was urging the Hebrews to hold firmly to what God had done in Jesus, to trust what God had done in Jesus and not go back to making choices that indicated they still thought they knew better than God.
The writer wanted them to understand, as one commentator has poignantly written, “whatever else sin and evil may be, they should not underestimate how perilous they are, how difficult it is to extract life back out of a creation that keeps choosing death…”
So, he paints them a picture of something they can wrap their heads around. The role of the high priest. I don’t know about you but Jesus as a high priest isn’t on my top five list of images for Him. Jesus the good shepherd, Jesus the light of the world, Jesus the bread of life, Jesus the healer, Jesus the way and the truth … Yes… Jesus the high priest, not so much.
So, what was it about a high priest that the writer of Hebrews wanted to get across?
To answer that we have to unpack the role of the high priest of which Aaron represented in the Jewish faith and Melchizidek represented prior to the birth of Judaism. High priests were held in very high esteem in antiquity. They were mediators between God and humanity.
The writer tells us that the high priest is a person appointed by God to act on behalf of the people, mediating between God and people. A person who deals gently with people who go astray as they are very aware of their own human failings for which they also ask for forgiveness.
In comparing the high priest to Jesus, though, the writer only picks up on a few things… both are divine appointments, both are merciful, Jesus because of what he suffered and the HP because of his own weakness, but there the similarities end. Jesus is the son of God who lived and died as a man, and rose from the grave becoming the source of salvation, the source of new life, new beginnings for humanity, whereas the HP was a man in need of the saving grace of Jesus.
Jesus had no need to be forgiven for his own sin (sin is best understood as simply missing the mark) Jesus lived without sinning, or to put it a different way he lived in relationship with his Father and trusted God fully even following what God asked of him to the point of death on a cross. Whereas the HP did need to offer sacrifices for his own sin.
In Judaism only the HP could enter the presence of God in the temple, and only once a year after forgiveness for sin had been asked for... on the other hand because Jesus has taken the darkness of humanity to the cross and overcome death, he has bridged the gap between humanity and God... this is huge... now anyone can come confidently anytime to God and pray directly to God knowing God will hear our prayers.... not because of anything we have done to deserve it but because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for creation.
The writer wanted the people to know that this was huge, something way more than we deserve.... This was and is the beauty of grace, the free and unmerited generosity of God. 2 Cor 8:9 “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.”
Jesus as our high priest knows, feels and cares about our human struggles... Jesus also knows the wrestle we have with wrong thoughts that can lead to wrong actions but he wants us to come to him again and again, falling on our knees, crying out in prayer... it’s what He did in the face of testing and death, it's what David did in Psalm 51 after he’d given in and acted on his wrong feelings of lust... what might it have looked like if he had cried out to God with those feelings before he acted?
But its deeper than that, the writer wanted them to grasp that living this way wasn’t just about trying to avoid the fishhooks of temptation, it was and is about living relationally with our God, a relationship that is intended to be life giving... as one commentator writes “Christian life is fundamentally positive in content. Over and over as the breakers of life wash over us, at times leaving us breathless and battered on the rocks of suffering and despair the underlying issue is our relationship to God.
Will the trials of life see us emerging from the flying sea spray with deeper trust of God learning from the heartbreak of what we suffer and choosing to become better people or find us cursing God because we weren’t rescued from the angry sea and letting seeds of bitterness, anger, hatred and pride take root determined to make others suffer for our pain or our wrong assumptions about how life should be?
Today we need to stop and recognize as we face our Muslim brothers and sisters that their world has been violated by a powerfully evil and very personal act. They have been intentionally attacked and hurt at the deepest level by a fellow human being who chose to do this to them.
Today, just in case we think we don’t need to examine ourselves, we need to learn from David that he was harboring wrong thoughts in his deepest places long before he acted on them.
Today this calls us to seriously to seriously examine our own hearts and ask Jesus to help us be truthful to ourselves and to Him about our innermost thoughts and desires.
Today we need to become better people by crying out to God in prayer whenever we find thoughts of anger, pride, lust, power, unforgiveness or one upmanship seeding in our hearts ...
Today and in the future we need to learn to sit with God in prayer and reflect on where we might be so blinded in our thoughts about how we think life should be that we can’t see the harm we are causing to others and become open to God creating a clean heart in us.
Today, when we know we have intentionally hurt others through harsh words or actions just because they see things differently to us, we need to bring those things to God and ask for forgiveness.... Then, where appropriate, ask the person or people involved, for forgiveness.
Today we need to get on our knees knowing, Jesus, who empathizes with us, is already on His knees praying for us and ask that we can be strengthened to learn to become better people as we endure the hard, dark places of life.
Today we need to think again about the integrity of creation and to catch a hold of the beauty of God’s grace. God’s grace found in Jesus our great high priest who doesn’t simply slap a new us over the old broken one but journeys with us into our deep, dark, broken places to help us learn through our mistakes and the despairing places of life to fully become all we were created to be in the first place.