Thursday, October 2, 2014

In Search Of Truth, Hebrews Recap, 1:1-7:3

A significant theme of Hebrews so far has been "holding on to hope and confidence in Yahweh so that we can be engaged in his plans and experience his blessing and rest".

In chapter 1 the author shows us that Jesus is superior to all messengers of God that came before him and is also the inheritor of all things in creation.

In chapter 2 we're told that Jesus is the source of our rescue from the power and penalty of sin, and are also warned not to neglect the ongoing rescue Jesus offers.

In chapters 3-5 we're told that there is a rest for God's people that the Israelites neglected but that is still available to us today. A rest that is found in the midst of our intentional pursuit of God and participation in his plans. This rest is found by fully relying on Jesus to be our "Great High Priest", trusting him, not our own efforts, to secure and maintain our good standing with God.

The author explains in chapter 6 that believers who fail to increasingly pursue and place their trust in Jesus burn out or drift from faith as a result, and may even reject Jesus in contempt. Those who go down this road don't lose the gift of eternal life (John 5:24, Romans 6:23, Romans 11:29, 2 Timothy 2:13), but they do miss out on rest and reward.

The author doesn't want his readers to end up in that situation, and so continues to build the case for trusting in Jesus to bring us, and keep us, in right relationship to God. This role of "go-between" is the classic job description for a priest. But can ANY priest, including Jesus, really pull this off?

I don't know about you, but it's really hard for me to remember and rely on the fact that Jesus, and not my effort, is the reason for my relationship with God. It's not that I fall into thinking that my efforts somehow earn or contribute to earning eternal life for myself. That idea isn't even on the table for me. But on a more subtle level, I can easily fall into feeling like my significance and usefulness to God and to the world is based on my capabilities and the results of my efforts.

In truth, Jesus' ultimate, incomprehensible act of love for me is what gives me value and significance, not my degree of talent, intelligence, creativity or accomplishments. I don't even think it's my particular involvement in God's plans that gives my life significance. The fact that God WANTS me involved in his plans makes me significant.

When I rely on myself for significance, I'm easily discouraged by repeated failure and shortcoming in my efforts. Maybe like me you have some dreams and goals that aren't even close to being realized and that keeps you discouraged or feeling burned out and ready to give up.

This kind of "self-reliance" seems to be humanity's natural tendency. It's why nearly every religion, including America's elusively vague "Spirituality", is based on "earning" a higher state of existence or status through "sincerity" or self-effort of some kind. It's the same mentality that was typically present in the Jewish culture around the time that Hebrews was written. And so the author of Hebrews is calling his readers to set aside the old mentality of self-reliance to instead rely on Jesus, who provides significance, value and rest from the burnout of a works-based mentality.

But as I said, giving up that desire to create my own significance is hard in the day-to-day grind. I think it's hard for all of us, just like it was hard for the original readers of Hebrews. Which is why the author spends a large amount of time building the case for Jesus as the one who can really deliver on the promise of rest from self-reliance and provide the significance we are aching for.

This brings us to chapter 7, where the case of Jesus is developed by comparing him to the King-Priest of the Old Testament, Melchizedek. In verses 1-3 this comparison indicates that Jesus is our king and should rule over all the details of our lives. He's also the go-between for us in our relationship with our Creator, the greatest and highest being in existence. Jesus is able to teach us perfectly about how to approach life and how to relate to God, because he himself is perfectly in line with God's perfect standards. He's the source of peace for us in ways that are not detailed here in chapter 7 but are wide-ranging. He's in a category of "priest" that is all his own, unlike any priest before him, without beginning or end.

You and I can continue to try and carve out and leave our mark on the world, impressing others with how interesting, unusual or gifted we are. Or we can renew, on a day-by-day basis (because we'll HAVE to do it daily), our trust in Jesus to provide rest from that futile, fruitless effort, giving us significance that doesn't depend on our reputation or accomplishments.

We'll see more reasons that we can trust him to do that for us as we continue in the book of Hebrews next time.

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