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 They are critiqued for using outdated presuppositions and poor methodology and in the worlds of George Guthrie “neglecting the work from any New Testament Scholar Outside their own group.”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.