Sunday, June 29, 2014

Snakes On A Plain: A preview...(Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21)

Hopefully that short video clip got your attention… It was probably packed with good reasons why you wouldn’t want to watch the movie ‘snakes on a plane’…  it’s definitely a B grade movie, in fact someone said, ”It’s so bad that it’s good.” Another reviewer said that “from the title and the trailer you know exactly what you are going to get…snakes on a plane, don’t come to this movie looking for good dialogue, character development, insight on the issues perplexing society today, the producers have just bought together two things people are afraid of Snakes and flying and are inviting you to relax sit back and enjoy the fright.

I know it may be a bit silly but I couldn’t help but think of this movie preview as I reflected on the passage from Numbers we are looking at today. They have things in common… In the movie it’s snakes on a plane, 30000 feet in the air flying between Hawaii and LA.  In Numbers, it’s snakes on a plain as the people of Israel in their exodus journey march around Edom on their way to the Promised Land.  In both People are being terrorised and killed by snakes. In both The people turn  to someone to save them. In the movie it’s Samuel L Jackson, who mobilises the assets of the FBI. In the scriptures they turn to Moses, who prays, and receives an answer. In both people are saved, I’m not going to do a spoiler for the movie, who knows you might want to watch it,  in scripture God invites them to look to a copper snake statue on a pole:  A statue that Jesus uses, in a conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, to convey the nature of his mission. “ Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” We are going to focus on that not the movie.

We are working our way through the E100 essential Jesus Bible challenge.  We started with five readings from New Testament writers that expressed what they understood about Jesus (We chose Hebrews 1:1-4 for our service)  then last week we looked at five passages that showed why humanity needed a saviour (We looked at Isaiah 59).  This week the readings focus on significant symbols in the Old Testament;  The Passover lamb, the manna from heaven, the temple, the Jonah story and the bronze or copper snake. Whitney Kuniholm says “just like movie trailers promote a coming attraction, and give us a pretty good idea of what’s coming, these passages give us fascinating previews of what is coming in the scripture.” They are called biblical Types… a person, or event or thing in the Old Testament that points toward Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It can be overdone, people try and view the whole Old testament that way,  but the ones that are in the Bible reading challenge this week are there because they are ones that Jesus uses of himself  to communicate the truth of who he is to people  steeped in the scriptures of the Old Testament.   I’ve chosen snakes on a plain out of those five. (Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21)

So let’s look at the narrative in numbers…The People of Israel had just won a military victory over one of the Canaanite kings, and instead of this heralding the beginning of their occupation of the land God had promised them, they embark on a long arduous detour round the nation of Edom. They move through territory that Millennia later Lawrence of Arabia would pass through and describe as ‘sinister, full of forbidding and actively evil, with only salt water, barren palms and bush’s which served neither for grazing or firewood. That it was snake devoted: the valley floor simply creeping with horn vipers, puff adders, cobra and black snakes. The people of Israel in this environment begin to grumble and complain, it’s like a broken record, they ask” why did we leave Egypt?”, they complain about the food God has provided, the manna from heaven, it’s not as good as the fluffy white bread and bottled water you could whip down the dairy for.  We talked about sin last week and find here that in their hardship they turn against God and are ungrateful for all that God had done for them. R Dennis Cole sums it up like this  “When a person’s heart is intent on rebellion and beset by discomfort, even the best of Gifts from the Lord can lose their savour; nothing will fully satisfy until the heart is made right.”

So the Lord sends snakes, from Lawrence’s description they didn’t have to come far. While it challenges us to consider God’s role in natural disasters, Lawrence had talked of the need to walk carefully with a stick bashing every bush in this land and you can imagine a group of grumpy disillusioned Israelites simply stomping and trudging through the same land easily falling victim to snake attack. It sobers them up real quick they realise what they have done and go to Moses who they had just being maligning and ask him to intercede on their behalf. We often think of disasters and difficulties being God’s judgement rather than being a time when God wakes us up to our need for him. 

Moses prays and God answers, he tells Moses to make a snake statue out of copper and place it on a  pole and all who look at the snake would be healed, and that is what happens. Jesus uses this symbol to talk about his own mission and his being lifted up, which refers to his crucifixion, and Raymond Brown sees many dimensions of divine mercy in this incident that point us to Christ…

The first is that salvation and healing were ‘Uniquely provided”  there could be no doubt it was Israel’s God who delivered them.  While two snakes on a pole has become a symbol for healing and medicine in our culture, there is nothing intrinsic in that symbol itself that provided healing for snake poison. It had to be God.

It was an ‘expression of God’s Power’. There is much debate over why God told Moses to make a copper snake on a pole. The Egyptian’s used to wear copper snake jewellery to protect them against snakes, and the snake and pole were both symbols of Egyptian religion. John Currid calls it a scene of polemical beauty” that this symbol of Egyptian power should be used to show the omnipotence of YHWH alone. It’s interesting that the cross was a symbol of the power of Rome, to deal with rebellion and crush it totally, in Jesus being lifted it it becomes the symbol of God’s power to forgive and to free and to give life.

It was a ‘sign of God’s Wisdom’, the Lord chose this unusual means by which the people would be saved. It seems ridiculous and absurd but as John Calvin points out “that absurdity made the grace of God even more conspicuous”. It wasn’t their own cleverness or ability, they were totally indebted to the goodness and grace of God.  Likewise Paul talks of the foolishness of God shaming the wise, that God should save us from sin and give us new life through a man dying on a cross. It does not make sense except in the grace of God.

t was “totally undeserved” Raymond Brown Eloquently puts it like this

“Their Salvation did not come from devotion, moral achievement or spiritual excellence. The vivid story is an uncomplicated parable of God’s astonishing grace. He presents his gift of salvation to undeserving rebels who have despised his provision, spurned his mercy, rejected his word and slandered his name.”

Not that we love God, says John, but that God first loved us and sent his son to be a sacrifice for our sins. “Blessed are the poor of spirit” said Jesus “for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

It was “urgently necessary”. It was a matter of life and death for the people of Israel. You can image it getting more and more out of hand as panic set in and people ran this way and that in a landscape creeping with snakes. Often its only in our dire need that we are open to God’s voice. It’s why many people turn to Christ in time of need. But we can forget that as we saw last week we are in a dire situation because of sin, it is a life and death situation, the wages of sin is death. Diabetes is an insidious disease, and I don’t often talk about my wrestle with it, but it is easy because the symptoms and the damage it does take time to have an impact, that you can think you are don’t have to make lifestyle changes or you are free to give them up, or as I euphemistically call it ‘go on a holiday from Diabetes for a while, but you can’t, because while you don’t feel it right off the damage is being done. Sin is kind of like that its consequences are not always so obvious, but it leads to death…  God’s salvation is urgently necessary.

God’s grace had to be “earnestly sought”. In the story that is a two-step process. Firstly in verse 7 they repented of their sin, they realised they had done wrong and they came to Moses and confessed it. Secondly to be saved they needed to look at the copper snake. The word for look here is more than a glance it has the same idea as believe in John chapter 3. It means to look to something putting our trust in that.

It was “Graciously mediated”, Moses who had every reason to be angry with the people didn’t go off, like he had in the past, it tells us that he willing prayed for the people. AS we saw last week as we looked at the beginning of the book of Hebrews in Christ we have a better mediator than Moses, who not only prays for us, but willing gave himself as a sacrifice for us.

It was “divinely guaranteed” as we’ve said before the efficacy of this miracle wasn’t in sign or the symbol, but rather in the promise of God, God’s word. God spoke and said that if people looked to the statue they would be healed.  For our resting image today we’ve been using a statue called the serpentine cross the serpentine cross statue on Mt Nebo by Italian artist Giovanni Fantonion Mt Nebo made by Italian Artist Giovanni Fantoni, no one has been healed bey looking at this symbol, as Raymond brown says the Reason for healing lay in the command from God and the promise of deliverance. We have Jesus word that those who look to him will have eternal life in him.

In the narrative God’s grace was “widely available” there was no preferential treatment the promise of salvation was to all ‘anyone who looked at the snake would be healed.” Jesus also says that it was for all who would believe in him that it was open to all people regardless of race, gender, achievements, status or experience. It is a universal offer.

But it also has to be “personally appropriated” they still had to look with faith at the copper snake.  The simplicity of this may really have been a barrier to people doing this. Naaman the leper is an example of how people can be affronted by the simplicity of God’s grace. He was told to go and wash in the Jordan river seven times, and almost missed out on God’s gracious healing because he actually thought it was beneath him to do something so silly and ordinary. People respond in the same way  to Jesus salvation on the cross, it seems so paradoxical to think as Gordon Wenham puts it ‘Men dying in sin are saved by a man suspended on a cross.” But we have to accept the gracious gift that God offers to us.” Salvation is a gift we have to accept.

Finally it was “Immediately effective” the moment they looked at the snake with faith it tells us that they became well. There was no delay between looking and living. It’s interesting to note that this is the last time in the scriptures that the people of Israel grumbled about the food or expressed a desire to go back to Egypt, in understanding the seriousness of their sin and encountering the grace of God they changed their ways. So the same is with Christ, John 6:40 says “everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”... there is no delay between the Looking and living.

 ‘Snakes on a plane’ is not a movie I can recommend… I’ve seen it. I’ll never gt that time back again…I can recommend Snakes on the plain because it gives us not only a picture of God’s grace and mercy to his rebellious people in their desert wanderings, it give us a wonderful rich preview of the grace of God shown to all in Jesus Christ. But more than that I want to finish with the recommendation of Raymond Brown whose analysis we’ve been following… he finishes by simply echoing John the Baptist …. saying that we should look to Jesus “Behold the lamb of God. Who takes away the sins of the world”.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Long Arm of the LORD... Never To Short To Save (Isaiah 59, Romans 3:21-26)

The world cup is on in Brazil at the moment… and because of that I have to admit I’ve been into the office a little late a few times this week, and I’m giving you advance warning I will be late on the odd occasion for the next few I might as well… Like a lot of New Zealanders I become a dedicated soccer/football fan for a short period of time once every four years… and Thank you TVNZ for showing games free to air.

And because of the world cup this is the image that came to mind as I reflected on the opening verse of Isaiah 59. It’s the Mexican goalie Ochoa making what has been describes as one of the greatest saves in World Cup Final history. Without any thought of his personal safety he dived towards the goal post and just gets enough of his figures on the ball at the last possible moment to push it wide of the goal. He ended up wrapped round the post but after making the save and a raft of other almost equally amazing saves, the sting of leather ball ricocheting off finger and palm and the bumps and bruises of colliding with ground and post were forgotten as Mexico kept Brazil to a goalless draw. And he has become a national hero. I don’t want to sound flippant but… His arm was definitely not too short to save.

The Image that is on the cover of our news sheet and on the screen through our service this morning is one that normally comes to mind for me when we contemplate the first phrase in our reading this morning ‘Surely the Arm of the LORD is not too short to save’. The arms of Jesus nailed to a cross… Jesus: the saviour of the world. While saving a goal at the world cup is serious we are are talking of someone who saved us from something a lot more serious…

As a church we are doing the E100 essential Jesus Bible reading challenge, a series of daily bible readings focusing on Jesus. Each week we are looking at one of the readings from the coming week in our services. Last week welooked at Hebrews 1;1-4, One of five passages from the New Testament the Essential Jesus challenge starts with; where the author gives some insight into the question ‘who is Jesus?’ and this week we turn to start to look at how Jesus fits into the wider narrative of the scriptures… In particular ‘the need for a savior’, why did Jesus come into the world and what does it mean that Jesus is the savior of the World? Isaiah 59 sets out the problem very eloquently and God’s promise that he will provide a solution, a savior very well. The big complex and difficult theological word and at the same time the short answer for the need of a savior is ‘sin’.

The book of Isaiah readily falls into at least two parts, it starts with what is called by many a book of Judgement, showing all the things that Israel has done in terms of breaking the covenant relationship it has with God, its sins, and as a result of that it predicts that Israel will be taken into exile in Babylon. There is a change of emphasis in Chapter 40 and the book becomes one of comfort for Israel in exile, with the promise of restoration. While Isaiah 59 may not seem that comforting it again points out that the problem is that Israel has broken her covenant relationship with God the hope is that God is going to do something to fix that problem permanently. In the scheme of scripture this is part of a bigger story as our reading in Romans 3 says it’s the reality that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. .

The Greek word Sin in Romans has a sporting connotation. Again one of the things that has struck me in the world cup has been the wild shots that players will take at goal. They focus on the goal and then kick the ball sometimes from great distances  and other times with the goal mouth open and there just being no chance that they will miss and the ball goes flying up over the bar into the crowd or off to the left or the right. That is sort of what the word translated sin means.

It comes from the world of archery and means an arrow not hitting the bullseye. Often when we speak of falling short we have this idea of not living up to a list of impossibly high moral absolutes but when we speak of falling short of the glory of God, it is that we have fallen short of the glorious ideal of peace and wholeness and life that God has for us as human beings and of his very character which is whole, so much so that we call God pure and holy.  Like in the image here Sin is serious because of the disastrous impact missing that mark has on us.
Isaiah 59 gives us insights into why God is against sin, and why he takes it seriously.

The first thing that Isaiah 59 tells us about sin is that God takes it seriously because it breaks our relationship and communication with God. The story does not start with sin, but rather with God, and God creating humanity for a loving relationship with him. The Genesis narrative tells us that God made us in his own image, that when God made us he saw it as very good. The shorter Westminster catechism, part of the subordinate standards of our Presbyterian Church puts it like this… what is the chief end of Humanity? To know and enjoy God always. One of the readings for this week is from genesis three which is the narrative of Adam and Eve, doing what God has told them not to and breaking that relationship. In fact the rest of the scriptures could be said to be the narrative of God working to restore that relationship. The big theological word for that is the idea of Heilsgeschichte or the scriptures as the record of God’s salvation history.

The second thing that Isaiah 59 says about sin is that God is against it because it breaks down our relationships with each other. The writer points out that because of humanities fallen-ness the way of peace is not known that Justice is far from us and there is darkness and shadow. I don’t have to tell you of the pain and suffering and sorrow that we can inflict upon each other because we see it round us and we all carry the scars and wounds of it as well. I’ve mentioned it before that Leonard Sweet talks about the idea of peace and wholeness being a matrix of right relationships, relationship with God with each other, with the created order, with our possessions and in the spiritual realm, even with ourselves and sin has the effect of breaking all those down. We see within humanity evil and injustice flourishing. You just need to turn on the TV news to see it every day and every night.

My daughter Bethany has been doing a research topic on Martin Luther for history, and one of the things she noted was that a lot of the people writing from a humanist and secular point of view were critical of Luther’s low opinion of human nature. And I had to think about that for a while and while its more connected to Calvin I wondered if it was that they had a negative understanding of the theological idea of ‘total depravity’, People often believe that means human beings as bad as they can be, but that is not what Christians believe. The reality is that our understanding of humanity is that we are made in the image of God and capable of the most amazing acts of kindness and goodness and justice, but that because of a result of sin that that image is marred and we are capable of such injustice and downright evil. I believe it is that we have a realistic view of the human condition. “total depravity’ means that while capable of good humans are not able to restore that matrix of right  relationships particularly with God in and of ourselves, in fact we come nowhere near it, those relationships and the very image of God with us remains broken and we need help from outside.

The third reason that God treats sin seriously is that it blinds us to the truth, In Isaiah 59:14-15 it talks of Justice being driven back and truth not being found. When Jesus healed the blind man, in John chapter 9, it leads on to a discussion with the Pharisees about being spiritual blind. Jesus says they are Blind to the truth about God and his love for us, and the person of Jesus. Often that blindness to the truth is to deny our own sinful nature and our need for a savior. The kingdom of God says Jesus is for those who are aware of their spiritual poverty.

These points can be summed up by saying that God takes Sin seriously because its consequence is death ‘the wages of sin is death’ as it said in our reading from Romans 3… Jim Wallace explains this by using two Greek words we translate as life when talking about human beings. We have bios life… the life share with all creatures that expresses itself in MRS GREN (Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion, Nutrition), which we equate with the natural life span of a creature… and like all other creatures this life comes to an end… the other word is Zoe, again the idea from genesis that humanity was made in the image of God, that God breathed Spiritual life into us, sin destroys this second idea of life a life that goes beyond just the physical, what the scripture calls eternal life. Sin destroys this.

Lastly God takes sin seriously because we know that he was willing to put himself on the line to provide a way of saving us from sin, and its effects and consequences. To restore our relationship with God, and with each other and that whole matrix of relationships that Sweet talks about, to make us whole and to give us eternal life.  Again the caricature often presented of God is that of judging human beings for our sin… the focus is on the hellfire and damnation on writing us off… but Isaiah 59 says that while God looks with displeasure on Sin and injustice he acts towards it in a righteous manner.

The image that is used is that of a redeemer. In Ancient Near eastern society, if you could not pay back a debt you owed your creditor could sell you into slavery to recoup his money. The only way to save you from that slavery was for a kind kinsman to buy you back by paying your debt, and buying your freedom. It would be a costly endeavour and an act of great love and commitment to a person, and Isaiah is saying that God is willing to be that loving kinsman and buy back those who would repent of their sins.

Christians believe that that redeemer and savior is Jesus Christ. That through his life death and resurrection, Jesus dealt with the sins.  We are invited then to live in a new way in Gods Kingdom, with the God’s Spirit living in us and with us to enable us to stop our sinfulness and keep God’s words and ways.

 I used the Illustration of Ochoa, the Mexican goalie this morning to start you thinking about long arms and it may have been a bit silly… But I want to finish by coming back to thinking about arms. God is serious about sin because of the disastrous effects it has on humanity, so we should equally be serious about sin. We often think of the long arm of the law as being someone coming to get us to punish us when we do something wrong but the hope comes in that the Long arm of the LORD that Isaiah talks about is not about punishment, it is about saving us..  I want to encourage all of you this morning to trust yourself into the arms of the Lord… they are never too short to save.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A simple prayer in response to Hebrews 1:1-4

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many different times in many different ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son- Hebrew 1:1
I spent most of last week lost in the wonders of the seven statements the writer of Hebrews makes about Jesus in Hebrew 1:1-4... I was putting together a message for Sunday as part of a series in conjunction with our Church doing the E100 essential Jesus Bible reading challenge... The focus was that God had spoken... God had revealed God's self to us, through scripture and 'in these last days' in the son. Because the son is the exact representation of God, has been God's agent in his cosmic action, in creation, providence and salvation and shares his glorious rule, from before beginnings and beyond endings. You can see my humble efforts to express that online...It was so easy to get caught up in the task of conveying it to people and to lose sight of the wonder and grace of it... But as I read the same bible reading as part of my daily devotions today I was blessed by the simple prayer that Whitney Kuniholm  finished his reflection with...

"Heavenly Father, I'm so thankful that you want me to know who you are. In spite of all my distractions, that's my heart desire."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rainy Days, wheely bins, Toilet Paper and suprisingly... Encouragement from the E100 Essental Jesus

Tuesday morning start for me here at the Church with me going round and emptying the rubbish bins, sorting out the recycling and restocking the toilet paper and hand towels. I guess it's the lot of being a minister in a small Church... You get to do a lot of the stuff that just needs doing. Anyway it was raining this morning and wintery, but the rubbish still needed to be collected, sorted out and put out at the gate for collecting. 
Perhaps the biggest storm cloud wasn't the one that had swept in our the city that morning, bring cold wind and showers, but the one that hung over my head. The assault of a soiled nappy on my nostrils, food scraps mixed with bottles which should have been in the recycling...At least as I dumped the content of the waste paper bins in the toilets into the big rubbish bag they didn't explode and spill over the floor this time... and someone had beaten me to replenish the toilet paper in the loo's this week. Perhaps I'm putting it on a bit thick but you get the picture and probably the emotion. And it probably captures the indignation I was feeling and the sense of "you know I don't know many other ministers who have to put up with doing this sort of stuff... grumble, grumble, grumble... and while it was probably a silly thing to get upset felt actually very encouraging that God spoke into that mood.
Back to  my office and time to do a quite devotion... One of the things that I am really pleased with is that we have started doing the E100 essential Jesus bible reading challenge here at St Peter's. a 100 day challenge to read through significant portions of scripture that speak of Jesus, put out by Scripture Union, the Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible translators to encourage and promote good bible reading habits... The reading today was Philippians 2:1-11  focusing on Jesus example of servant hood and sacrifice. Whitney (I though it was a woman by the name... but it's a bloke) Kuniholm's commentary focused round what Paul was getting at...
" he wants Christians in a first century city called Philippi to be less selfish and more loving, compassionate, joyful and united. Good advise for Christians in any town, at any time. But the question was how? Paul's answer was simple: live like Christ."  
Then he focused in on what Paul says about Jesus (or the ancient hymn Paul quotes) two things struck home...
Jesus humbled himself (v.&) The creator of he universe was willing to serve his creatures. Are you willing to serve those "lower" than you?
Jesus obeyed his father (v.8) for him it meant death on a cross. What does obeying God mean for you today? 
Ok not earth shattering, but a real sense of God knowing what was on my heart and speaking into it.
A call to fierce love for the people I am called to... courageous leadership and yes humble servanthood as well. Even if it means faithfully taking out the trash on a rainy cold winter Tuesday mornings.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What is God Like? Better Look at the Son (Hebrews 1:1-4)... Jesus; but who do you say I am (part 1)

Today we are starting the e100 Essential Jesus Bible reading Challenge… I think it’s great so many of you have signed up for this.  Whitney Kuniholm’s reading guide for the challenge starts “ No Matter what you think of Jesus there is no denying that he is the most influential person in all Human history.”

To illustrate that…even the FIFA world cup which kicked off in Brazil this weekend and is arguably is the world’s biggest sporting event will feature Jesus… No he’s not playing in any team,… There are lot of people that will be hoping he is on their side…  But as part of the backdrop for the final and of TV coverage is the statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ that overlooks Rio. It was built because of the importance of faith in Jesus to the people of Brazil.

Kuniholm goes on to say…” And what’s truly amazing is that his path to influence was so unlikely .” echoing the poem ‘one solitary life’ in modern terms  he says “Jesus never became a political, military or government leader; he never wanted to. He never owned a multinational corporation or acquired any wealth to speak of; he didn’t need it. He never wrote a book, never staged a concert tour, never appeared on television and never had a radio talk show or even his own blog. He was born in a barn, grew up as a labourer, remained single and childless his entire life, and was executed at the age of thirty three”.  Yet somehow Jesus became the reference point for life ever since. In fact Kunihlom suggests that the most important question in all of human history is who is Jesus? Or as Jesus himself asked ‘who do you say I am?.”

It’s actually quite hard to know where to begin when it comes to looking at Jesus. For example…In recent times one of the debates about Jesus and the Bible has been about the difference of the Historical Jesus and the Christ of faith.  Scholars have focused on trying to strip back what the early church has said about Jesus to try and supposedly go in search of the historical person. A popularised example of  this is  the ‘Jesus Seminar’ a group of scholars who meet and vote on what is and isn’t in their opinion a genuine word of Jesus.  They’ve discounted quite a bit actually… They get a lot of media coverage but also are open to harsh criticism; they come from the position of philosophical naturalism, they do not believe in anything beyond the natural world so are dismissive of anything ‘supernatural’ including the resurrection. They are critiqued for using outdated presuppositions and poor methodology and in the worlds of George Guthrie “neglecting the work from any New Testament Scholar Outside their own group.”

The essential Jesus bible reading challenges starts with five readings with statements the writers of the New Testament make about him. And we are going to start in our service with the prologue to the book of Hebrews. The writer of this letter does not seem to have any trouble knowing where to start when talking about Jesus. He does not struggle with seeing anything amiss with what he has come to believe about Jesus and the person of Jesus.  In fact Hebrews is unlike any of the other epistles we have in the New Testament, the author does away with the niceties of letter writing, we don’t know who its addressed to, or who it is from and we don’t get any greeting or context… no “I am writing to you because” the author goes straight into a profoundly deep and poetically rich statement about God and the Son who he will later identify with Jesus.  He starts his message by gripping people’s attention with this and spelling out what he is wanting to tell the people in the rest of his writing.

The Subject of the prologue is God and an essential attribute or characteristic of God: That God chooses to communicate with us, God chooses to reveal Gods self to Humanity… God has spoken.  Theologically we usually talk of that in two ways. General revelation; that we can know about God because of what God has shown through creation and providence (moving in history) and our abilities as humans to reflect on the nature of everything, and  that is not what the author of Hebrews is concerned with here. The second way in which God is revealed to us is called special revelation, more specific and direct communication. In the past says the writer, God spoke to his people through the prophets in many times and many different ways. For the Jews this was through the written prophets, dreams visions, understanding of their history, through the law given to Moses; a revelation of God’s moral character, but now in these last days God has spoken to us through the Son. God’s nature and love and grace and justice is revealed in the Son. ‘The last days’ doesn’t just mean lately, in biblical understanding it is talking of a new era a new age that was looked for and pointed to in the Hebrew scriptures.

If you want to know what God is Like… says the writer of Hebrews check out the Son. The revelation of God in the Son is not different from the communication that has gone before… it’s the fulfilment of it. The author of Hebrews makes some very profound statements about the Son, which are designed to show us that the Son is a better… a word that is used 13 times in the book of Hebrews to talk of Jesus… a better way of communicating with us than before. Better in that it is more complete and more personal. 

In fact the writer makes seven statements that can be seen have a chiastic structure, a way in Jewish Poetry of pairing   parallel ideas with the central idea at the center. They tell us that the Son is able to communicate God because the Son pre-existed with God, was God incarnate and is the focus of God’s eternal exaltation.

Let’s start in the middle…The central two statements speak of the relationship between the Son and God. The Son is the radiance of the Glory of God… In 1 John 1:3 we see that God is light, one of the attributes of light is that it shines, we see the light source because the light radiates out of it. This is the illustration that the author uses here. At dawn we know the sun is coming to the horizon even though we cannot see it because the  sky changes colour, the light that the sun radiates heralds its coming. Even when we can’t see the sun behind storm clouds its rays often peak through showing us its reality. The word Glory has the sense of being the weighty reality of all that a person is. The Son shows us the very reality of God.

‘ The Son is the exact representation of God, is a metaphor from the world of engraving and coins. Just as a coin is the exact representation of the mould it was cast from or stamped out of so the Son reflects the very character of God’s being.  It’s not a physical resemblance because the Greek word used here is ‘character’ a person in a play. The very character and nature of God is in Jesus. So if you want to know what God is like look at the son.

The next two parallels say the Son can show us what God is like because the Son has been instrumental in the cosmic action of God:  Not only sharing in the nature and character of God but God’s action.  “Through whom he made the Universe” This reflects the New testament understanding of the eternal pre-existence of the Son, it echoes the prologue to John’s gospel in that everything was created through the ‘Word of God’… God has spoken through the Son.  He spoke and it came into being.

“Sustaining all things by his powerful word.” One of the pictures that comes to mind from Greek mythology is Atlas carrying the spinning world on his shoulders. But here the idea is not like that rather that it is the Son who is directing the whole flow of human history, who is its beginning and leading it to its end point, the agent of God’s providence

A central and important part of that involvement is  “providing purification for sins”. Here the Son is seen as identified as Jesus, come into the world to offer a sacrifice once and for all for all that we have done wrong… Just as Jesus is a better way for God to have spoken… a fulfilment of what has a gone before… here also we see that the Son does what the Old Testament sacrifice system could not fully do… God communicates his love and grace and justice in Jesus. Later in Hebrews this is expressed that Jesus is the better high priest able to make a sacrifice, himself, that would deal once and all with the barrier between humanity and God. That we can be declared forgiven.

Then we see that the Son shares the reign and rule and authority of God. ‘whom he appointed heir’ the idea of an heir is someone who will share the reign of a monarch and the wording here implies that the Son has always been in that position, but there will be a future fulfilment as well. In Christ’s coming we have that reign inaugurated in the realm of humanity, the Kingdom of God has come, and we await its consummation.

 He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty of heaven. Majesty of heaven by the way refers to God, the Jews did not believe it was appropriate to use the name of God, YHWh so would use such terms when speaking or writing. In the Old Testament only the Davidic kings were able to sit in God’s presence and here we see that the Son is to share God’s reign and power.

Another way of summing up these statements is that the Son, is  a better  prophet, speaking God’s word, priest, a mediator between Humanity and God  and King, showing us what it is like where and when Gods reign is lived out. Why look at Jesus? Well the author of Hebrews would tell us if you want to know what God is like look at the Son. 

That’s been a bit of a theological journey, it is very much high Christology that is a high understanding of who Jesus is.  So why… why start with that?

Firstly, our theology matters, it’s easy to simply see Christianity as a practical way of living, of rituals and rules for a better life, to view Jesus as a good teacher. However it’s more than that In Jesus…“God speaks” and as the book of Hebrews will encourage us we need to listen and hear what God has to say and to heed it and obey it. It’s important for us to come to studying Jesus and realise that God speaks fully and finally in Christ. Before Christ everything pointed to him after Christ everything God has said and does flows out of him. We live out our faith in response to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. In the New testament epistles we often have our theology, our understanding of Jesus and the gospel expounded and then that little word “therefore” because of who he is and what God has done live in this way.

Secondly, Hebrews was written to a group of believers who were finding it hard, they faced being ostracised and persecution. They had many good reasons to stop and doubt and even reject their faith.  It would have been easy for them to stop following Jesus and simply slip back into the old ways, the comfortable ways, for them that would have been Judaism.  Warren Wiersbe suggests we can find ourselves in the same unsettling hard times today and almost subconsciously find ourselves doing the same thing. He says everything around us is shaking and changing and people are discovering they are depending on the “Scaffolding” they have built and not the solid foundation. Even God’s people have gotten so caught up in the worlds system that their confidence is not in the Lord, but in money, buildings, programs, and other passing material.”  The invitation is, as a my friend of mine says, “to keep the main thing the main thing… or in this case the main one as Hebrews puts it…to run the race with our eyes fixed on Christ the author and perfecter of our faith.