Sunday 30th October 2022

HEBREWS 1

The Letter to the Hebrews is anonymous.  For centuries people thought it was by Paul, but the writing styles are very different, and Paul always identified himself as the ‘shepherd’ with a message to his flock.  Some theologians ascribe the letter to Barnabas – who knew his Old Testament exceedingly well.  However, I tend to agree with Martin Luther’ opinion that the writer was Apollos, who was an Alexandrian Jew who converted to Christianity and was discipled by Aquila and Priscilla (Jewish Christians exiled from Italy).

Apollos was “…a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the scriptures” (Acts 18:24) and was Paul’s co-worker in the Corinthian church in the early stages of its life (1 Cor 1:12; 3:4; 6:22).  Hints of his authorship appear in the greetings in Hebrews 13, where he says: “Those from Italy send you their greetings”.  That might refer to his mentors, Aquila and Priscilla, who had left Rome for Corinth, then moved to Ephesus and perhaps back to Rome again at some point.

o This letter was written AD 65–70, to Jewish converts to Christ in Rome, who were experiencing a second ‘wave’ of persecution after Emperor Nero’s in AD64 and were tempted to return to their Jewish ‘status’, since this was a legal religion in the empire.  These readers were ‘second generation’ Christians

o The purpose of Hebrews is to prove beyond any doubt that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) and that his life, death, and resurrection have made him the only way to fellowship with God.

o Its purpose is also to show that a return to Judaism would be spiritual suicide and a falling away from God’s purposes and his grace.  For the Jews, Calvary changed everything, forever!

o Hebrews is the most wonderful commentary on the whole Old Testament; it is the Holy Spirit’s grand portrait of Christ with the O.T. in the background.  It explains how the whole of the Jewish ceremonial law and ritual was the ‘shadow’ of the reality later to come in Jesus.

o The main themes of Hebrews are all to do with the fact that ‘Jesus is better!!!’:

* Jesus is the Son of God and so greater than all angels

* Jesus is the Son of Man; he became human like us in order to become our mediator

* Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and so greater than Moses.

* Jesus is the Great High Priest; greater than the Old Covenant priesthood

* Jesus is God’s chosen sacrifice; and so more effective than the bulls and goats

o Other important messages are:

* We must look at heroes of faith who have gone before us, and don’t give up on Jesus

* God our Father treats us as sons, and disciplines us through hardship and suffering

* Hebrews ends with a fabulous prayer in 13:20-21, which sums up the whole letter.

o The Key Verse of Hebrews is 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess”.

Chapter One begins with a focus on Jesus, the Revelation of God.  “…In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe”.  Jesus is God’s “Last Word”, and he will never speak through any other ‘channel’ that does not unite itself to Him.

The remainder of the chapter establishes and reinforces from scripture that Jesus is far, far greater than all the angels – which are “…ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”, i.e., to serve us.  In scripture, the term ‘angel’ is used to represent those spirits who are submitted to God; they are the ‘good guys’.  Those who rebel against him and follow the Devil are usually known as ‘demons’ and are organized into varying levels of authority, such as ‘Rulers’, ‘Authorities’, and ‘Powers’ (see Ephesians 6:12).  Many theologians regard the Devil as a fallen archangel.  Regardless of whether they are good or evil, Jesus is greater and more powerful than them all.

Two of the quotations from chapter one specifically prove that Jesus is himself God and was co-creator of the heavens and the earth.  God the Father himself quotes Psalm 45:6-7 whose subject is therefore God the Son.  Also, the Father quotes Psalm 102:25-27, which describes the Son’s role in the creation of the worlds from the very beginning and the fact that the Son himself will live forever.  Very powerful stuff!

LAMENTATIONS 3:37-66, 4 and 5

When a disaster has occurred, such as a huge typhoon or floods or an earthquake, or the deaths of loved ones in wartime or in peace –  the first question in your head is “What is going on?” and rapidly following on its heels is “Why?”.  “Why?” stands on its own as a question and needs no other words to qualify it or explain it.  I imagine that God has been asked more “Why?” questions than all the “What?”, “How?”, “Who?”, “When?”, and “Where?” questions put together! 

And yet the “Why?” question is often the one that the Lord will refuse to answer.  One day, we will know that answer, but today He just comforts us with “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness”.  It is not the answer that we want, but perhaps it is the response that we need.  When does a young child know precisely what it needs?  Only its parents really know.  Our Heavenly Father is both compassionate and knowledgeable about our earthly state; he provides for our needs at all times – and for our wants on most occasions too!

Judah, however, did receive an answer to the “Why?” question:  It was because the Lord had decreed the disaster that had come upon them.  And he had decreed it because they had deserved it, provoked Him, and rejected all warnings to repent.  “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (3:38).  The answer is ‘yes’.  “I bring prosperity and create disaster – declares the Lord” (Isaiah 45:7).  It is important to grasp that God has not been caught ‘off guard’ by some other person or spiritual force; he has not absent-mindedly forgotten to bless and protect the nation that he had always loved.  Rather, he himself has chosen their punishment for them and has poured out his justice upon them in full.

He did it by removing that ‘covering’ or ‘shadow’ of protection from them.  Every day of our lives, we his people are covered and protected by his power and his grace; we have no idea what it feels like to be exposed to the full measure of the forces of darkness.  What the Lord is doing to Judah in Lamentations is to withdraw from them – a very reasonable choice, given that the nation kept asking him to do just that in so many ways!  But when God withdraws, all Hell is let loose!  The nations are unrestrained; and God’s people are unprotected.  Lamentations and the Fall of Jerusalem are just a foretaste of the final judgment to come, when those who have spent their lives denying the Lord and rejecting his Messiah finally receive what they have asked for.  The scripture says that “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” – true, but it is a much much worse thing to fall out of them!

“Pay them back for what they deserve, Lord, for what their hands have done.  Put a veil over their hearts, and may your curse be on them!” (3:64-65).  People with ‘veiled’ hearts are spiritually blind to God’s redemption and will never choose to escape from the coming wrath.  They always get what they want!

In a post-siege situation when food and water is scarce, human nature comes to the surface.  “My people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert” – the ostrich appears to be the most careless of parents with her offspring.  Even more chillingly: “With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became food when my people were destroyed” (4:10).  Those soldiers and citizens who died early by the sword are viewed as the ‘fortunate ones’!

“We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price… We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread… Slaves rule over us… Women have been violated in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah” (5:4, 6, 8, 11).  Not surprisingly, the people cry: “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning”.  The very sad thing is that all the above was avoidable, if only Judah had listened! 

The Book ends in a muted tone; some hope mixed up with much despair: “Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (5:21-22). 

In 1 Corinthians 10, verses 6 and 11, Paul tells us that the Old Testament stories are written down for us to learn from: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warning for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come”.  We need to heed that warning!

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