This time we're looking at 4-6 of the six concepts included in what the author of Hebrews calls "the elementary doctrine of Christ". Again, it's not clear from this passage how much one should know about these ideas in order to "graduate" from the spiritual infancy the author refers to, but at the very least we can assume that these ideas are important and fundamental to living the Christian life and following Jesus.
4. Laying on of hands: This was a common church practice in this time period, and one with a broad range of uses. It was sometimes associated with an initial blessing or gifting from the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6, Acts 8:17-19, Mark 10:13-16). It was also sometimes accompanied by healing. (Mark 5:23; Acts 9:12; James 5:14)
The "laying on of hands" has never been a supernatural ability controlled by the individual, but is instead an act through which the Holy Spirit may or may not freely choose to bring about unique blessing of some kind.
The common thread of this act seems to be an expression of love and support, and a request for God's blessing (which may come in a variety of forms) on the person being touched. This is not some mysterious ritual, but a tangible way we are meant to encourage and bless each other.
This is another, somewhat uncomfortable reminder to me that the Christian life is not meant to be lived solo or only online. We're meant to physically spend time worshiping and learning with other believers while encouraging and praying for each other. As a highly introverted geek, I'd love to find some way to downplay the importance of this. Sometimes I think I'd be just fine if I lived in a hole by myself for the rest of my life, but scripture doesn't allow me to live life that way. And realistically I know it would be a miserable existence before too long.
5. The resurrection of the dead: Jews who knew their Tanakh (Old Testament) knew that a future day is appointed when God will raise everyone in history from the dead (John 11:23-24). Both those who worship Yahweh and those who do not will be physically raised from the dead. Although once raised, those who have rejected Jesus and by extension, Yahweh, will live a very different and tragic existence from those who chose to trust Jesus in this life. (Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2-3, Revelation 20:13-15)
The resurrection is an event that has already been kicked off, so to speak. The resurrection of Jesus served as a sort of "opening ceremonies" for the larger event. (1 Corinthians 15:23)
I think we can assume that mature believers should already understand the importance of Jesus' resurrection and should also be looking forward with anticipation to the final resurrection. The resurrection, in both senses, should be a foundational truth we find encouragement from. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
6. Eternal judgment: This idea goes hand in hand with the resurrection of the dead. The Bible paints a picture of everyone being raised to life at some point, and facing judgment afterward. The word "judgment" in modern popular culture has an immediately negative connotation, especially in a religious context. But it's worth remembering that judgment does not produce a negative outcome by definition. A court judge can judge in the favor of someone being accused just as easily as he or she can make a judgment against them.
Likewise in scripture we see two kinds of judgment from God happening in the future. A judgment involving reward and a judgment involving punishment. (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:13) A basic idea governing the biblical Christian life, is that this life is not all there is, but what we do in this life matters.
As geeks, our hobbies can be very useful as rest or mental exercise. But there comes a point when their usefulness is exhausted and they are merely taking up precious, finite time that could be invested in things that will last forever.
If I don't find all the pieces of that matching set of magical armor tonight, if I don't take down that boss that really has it coming to him, it won't matter anyway after this blink of a life is over. But if I take a moment to text or call that friend who is feeling unsettled, it could become a moment celebrated forever because it drew my friend and myself closer to each other and closer to the king of the universe.
Every day and moment we make choices that have eternal ramifications. As believers, we're not trying to earn good standing with God. We've given up on that pointless effort and are counting on Jesus to bail us out. But we are building up two different lists.
One is a list of things that will be celebrated forever, that we'll spend eternity learning how they interacted with God's sovereignty and the choices of others to create the most remarkable and intricate story ever told. The other is a list of things we chose to do instead of investing in God's agenda. A list we won't be condemned for, but also a list that will not be celebrated, as it is made up only of missed opportunities to invest in something better.
I'm so grateful this life isn't it, and that the life after this isn't just an extended version of the mess we live in now. I'm so grateful I won't spend eternity weighed down by shame and regret over things done and left undone. But at the same time I want to build on the list of things that will be celebrated in eternity. And the ridiculous, tireless grace of God means that every moment is a fresh chance to do that.