Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christ is better than...! So, why go back???

My church and I have been reading through the Bible this year.  In this endeavor we have read Genesis, Mark, Exodus, Leviticus, Acts, and parts of Proverbs and Psalms.  This has been extremely rewarding, and although it is time consuming, I have found ways to read/listen to everyday's reading.  Today, we will begin a four day journey through the book of Hebrews.  I can't wait.

Hebrews is a fascinating book. It may be the very best example of eloquent Christian writing.  It exhibits a profundity I find to be in a class of its own.

In order to recall much of the information about Hebrews, I thought I would write about some of the finer points of this enthralling work.  Much of this information is gleaned from a work by Norman Geisler.

No one is quite sure who wrote the book of Hebrews.  Many people have been proposed as the author, but no proposal fits the book perfectly. There are always some minor inconsistencies to the contents/style of the book with the proposed author.  Most often, scholars propose Pauline authorship, while there can be a very good case made for Apollos being the author.

In any case, we can know some pretty important things about the author of Hebrews.  This author is extremely educated.  They exhibit a phenomenal command of the Greek language, while still being knowledgeable about the Old Testament Jewish system.  This combination gives the book its amazing eloquence and style.

Hebrews was written because Jewish Christians were considering going back to the Jewish way of life.  They had experienced the beginnings of persecution because of their new faith, and this made them long for "the good ol' days" of the old Jewish system.

In tandem with the persecutions, many Christians began to wonder if Christ was sufficient.  They doubted the saving power of Christ alone.  When doubt crept in, they searched for new ways to ensure to themselves they would be saved.  They wanted to substitute their own power for God's power, works for Grace, religion for relationship.

Main Theme
In my view, the theme of Hebrews can be summed up in one main theme:  Christ is Better Than...! There are many different important things in the book, but it seems to me that all of these points surround one major interweaving theme.  The author is using a sophisticated argument to show not only the sufficiency of Christ, but also the superiority of Christ.  When he concludes the book there is no doubt that Christ is better than the old way of living, better than religion, works, and our own power.

Christ fulfills God's Requirements!
The first part of Hebrews focuses on the fact that Jesus fulfills what God required for the people and his servants.  In this way Christ is able to be the best indicator of how to follow the one true God.

Christ is better than the Prophets! (1:1-4, Key Verse: 1:2)
This is the first thing Christ is better than.  The prophets were the OT way of God's revealing plans to the Israelites.  Without them the nation of Israel would not have known the requirements for holiness, repentance, or service to their Lord.  There are not many things the Jews would hold higher than the prophets.

So, it could come as a shock to the readers of this letter that the author is so matter of fact about the superiority of Christ over the prophets.  In the first four verses of Hebrews, the author makes it clear that the prophets can't hold a candle to Christ.  The prophets could not fully communicate what God wanted to communicate to the people.  But in Christ, we have the full explanation of the Father (John 1:18).  No one has seen the Father, except through the Son.  We have been given the full message of God the Father when Christ was incarnated.

No matter how effective the old way of revelation was, we now have the climax.  Christ is the heir, the helper of creation.  He is the living revelation!

Christ is better than angels! (1:4-2:18, Key Verse: 1:6)
The Jews knew angels were able to point out great ways of worshiping God.  They were so beautiful, often people would be known to worship the angels instead of God.

The problem is that angels are only created beings.  They are messengers sent by God, ministers of God.  They are given their power by someone more powerful, more beautiful.  The author of Hebrews asks why we should worship created beings when we can worship Christ?!?!  Even the angels worship Christ!  They know their betters. He is God!

Not only is this so, but Christ humbled himself to become lower than the angels in his incarnation.  Ironically, this makes him even more worthy of our worship.  He is the true Servant-Leader.

Christ is better than Moses! (3Key Verses: 3:3-6)
Moses brought a type of salvation to Israel.  He led them out of Egypt!  Unfortunately, Moses was not powerful enough to save fully and the people were unable to persevere in this salvation.  Moses led the people out of Egypt, the Red Sea, brought the ten plagues on Egypt... and on and on!!!  But this power wasn't actually the power of Moses.  This salvation wasn't the salvation of Moses.  These were to show the Israelites who had the true power, and who would bring the true salvation.

Why settle for Moses, and his lack of salvific power, when you can have true salvation from Christ?  Christ's power saves to the end.  It will not be found wanting.

Christ is better than Joshua and the Sabbath! (4:1-13Key Verses: 4:9-10)
After Moses was unable to bring about full salvation, the Israelites were promised true rest could be found after their forty years of wandering in the desert.  Once they were sanctified, Joshua would bring them into the promised land, the resting place, the place God had always set aside for them.  They would find Sabbath rest.

Unfortunately, Joshua was not capable of bringing the full Sabbath rest.  Again the Jews disobeyed, they did not persevere.  But Christ brings the full Sabbath rest.  From Christ we receive the full inheritance.  Why stick with Joshua (the one who saves) when we can be with Christ (the True Savior).

Christ fulfills what we need!
The second part of the book of Hebrews focuses on the fact of Christ being a better fulfillment of what humanity needs.  In this way he was able to bridge the gap between God and man.

Christ is better than the Priesthood (4:14-7:28Key Verses: 7:23-28)
In the Old Testament, the Priesthood functioned as a mediator for the people to God.  These priests were human to represent humanity, and they made sacrifices on behalf of humanity to ask God for favor.  Lamentably, the priests were not fully able to fulfill this function.  The problem is two-fold.  First, the priests die and therefore are unable to continue their work forever.  Second, the priests are also sinners and therefore their representation is not enough.

But Christ lives forever and is perfect.  Why do we settle for anything less?  Christ is the perfect mediator.

Christ is better than the Tabernacle! (8:1-5Key Verse: 8:2)
When God is instructing the Jews on the building of the Tabernacle the instructions are very detailed and very tedious looking.  However, God is being so specific, because the Tabernacle is being made to be a direct reflection of the beauty of God.  The tabernacle is the house of God, and it should be made in such a way so we can show God his true worth.  Anything less than perfection and beauty would be an insult to him.

The problem is that the tabernacle is only a copy of the true beauty of God.  It is built by man and it is destroyed by man.  But Christ's tabernacle is perfect.  It is built by God, not man, so it cannot be destroyed.

Christ is better than the Old Covenant! (8:6-9:22Key Verse: 9:15)
One of the key themes of the Old Testament is that God has promised the Jews would bless the other nations of the world.  In this, the Old Covenant, they would be a blessing to all other nations.  The problem is the Israelites could not fully bless the other nations because they were fallen, and constantly disobeyed their God.  The work they were able to accomplish was merely symbolic of the coming blessing.

Thankfully, Christ not only fulfills the Old Covenant, but he also surpasses it.  When he died upon the cross, a New Covenant was given, sealed by his blood.  He died to pay the price, which gives us the opportunity to receive; for all nations to gain the blessing.  The inheritance of the children of God is available to us.

Christ is better than the Sacrifices!  (9:23-10:39Key Verse: 10:12, 14)
As a result of man's sinfulness, he is utterly disgusting before God.  Sin taints everything it emanates from.  Therefore, it is necessary for man to be purified.  In order to do this, God implemented the sacrificial system.  The sacrifices were a way for man to become clean before God.  Unfortunately, these sacrifices made them cleaner, but not clean.  The purification did not last long, they were made in a corrupted sanctuary, and they were only representations of the true sacrifice.

Thankfully, Christ is the perfect sacrifice, and his sacrifice is forever.  His blood is the perfect purification, instead of "cleaner" man can now be "clean."

Why Go Back?
Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the whole Jewish system.  This foundation was continually pointing to him.  Is there anything better than Christ?  Why go back to the old ways?  Why live as though we don't have him?
We shouldn't drift (2:1-4), doubt (3:7-19), become dull (5:11-14), depart (6:1-20), despise (10:26-39), or deny (12:18-29) the superiority of Christ!

But what should be our response???  In the closing chapters of Hebrews, the author explains that because Christ is superior we should go all out for him.  We should give our all to him.  We should go all out in Faith (11), in Hope (12), and in love (13:1-17)

Why go back?  Instead go all out!

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