Catching Up a Bit on Hebrews

As I mentioned last week, writings on Hebrews were slow going as I didn’t want to skip over the difficulty of Hebrews 6. But now that we’re in to the home stretch of the book, I didn’t want to altogether miss out on the amazing passages I’ve yet to focus on.

Chapter six opens with the challenges passage that makes us investigate our security in God, but then it ends with wonderful verses on the certainty we can have with God. He is one who can keep all the promises that he has made to us.

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear,he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose,he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

Hebrews then goes on with a phrase that struck me so much when I noticed it a couple years ago that I have it written on a post-it and stuck to my wall. The certainty that we have in God is like a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. What a reassuring picture of the hope we have in God? When all the world rages on like a storm around us, we have a hope that is fixed, immovable because of the great work of God for us in Jesus Christ.

Beyond chapter six we get the mysterious character Melchizedek mentioned in chapter seven, showing how Christ, like him, is not a priest like any other. He does not depend on his lineage nor does his ministry come to an end. He is a priest forever, always perfectly interceding for us.

This continues the theme that what Christ has done and who Christ is make him the bringer of a new and better covenant. Chapter eight talks of how those old things were copies and shadows of what is real and they looked ahead to Christ’s coming. Jeremiah 31 is quoted to show they longing and to communicate that this future day Jeremiah spoke of has found its fulfillment in Jesus.

I think Hebrews is a wonderful book that helps us to couple Jesus Christ with phrases like “better than”, “how much more,” and “greater than” as we compare him and all he has done to everything that has gone before.

Job in 25 minutes

We’re finishing Job having now spent three weeks going through its 42 chapters. There is a lot to digest from it, and not only because of its length. It is a weighty book dealing with questions of God’s role in the world and suffering.

We were blessed at church to have had a sermon two Sundays ago that took on the minor task of preaching on the entirety of the book. Often as we preach from the texts we’re reading we preach on some of the texts. But as this tries to sum up the whole, I thought I’d link to it here and offer it up as a good word on this deep book.

The Patience of Job, Lauren Taylor, October 21, 2012

 

Looking ahead (already) to next week

For those of you out there who really like to have a plan, I want to remind you that next week is when we throw it into high gear. You might wonder, “I thought reading the Bible in a year was already high gear.” Well, you may be right. But we begin our history blitz in week 7 and that means reading about twice as much as usual for three weeks.

I’ll get into the why next week, but I bring it up now because I wanted to draw your attention to the amount of reading we have currently. We finish up Job and Hebrews and toss in a few Psalms. This makes it a lighter load. So, if you look ahead and your knees shake at the thought of so much of 1 & 2 Kings and Chronicles, feel free to get a head start. (Also, look ever further ahead and notice the week following our history blitz is especially light, so you always spill over into that week).

I figured it is no use telling you that this is a good week to think about reading extra once the week is over.

Hebrews 6, Can We Fall Away?

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Hebrews 6:1-4

REM – Losing Religion back in the 90s

I must confess I have slowed in my readings (and writings) of Hebrews this week for two reasons. One – because I was away on study leave enjoying teachings of NT Wright and the beauty of fall in Princeton, NJ. Two – because we began with this extremely troubling passage. I wanted to find some more time this week to study it, but here we are on the eve of week six and I wanted to say something.

It appears as though this passage is saying that someone can come to Christ, be “saved”, and then fall away. If this were to happen, there’s no turning back. Almost like saying you can come and be forgiven for any sin, but only once.

So this is troubling for all the worry it would cause if we can lose our salvation. It would change where I stand before God from solid rock to shifting sand. These verses are also troubling because we read elsewhere passages like (and this is just a small sampling):

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 10:27-28

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

So how do we reconcile these passages? Some of the ways I’ve seen this described go like this:

This hypothetical person can’t be forgiven because they do not want it. They have turned their back and it isn’t so much that they can’t, but that they won’t be forgiven. This still has the issue of the possibility of falling away, but the argument can then continue by proposing that no one who would turn their back on Christ would have been a true Christian in the first place. The description of being enlightened, tasting heavenly gifts, and so on are descriptions of enjoying certain corporate benefits of the church. Or maybe it is some individual understanding, but it is not the same as being gifted the saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Quick review: So far the possible readings are that you can’t be forgiven because you don’t want it, or (with some possible overlap) that this hypothetical person hasn’t truly fallen away because that’s impossible and they were not a Christian to begin with.

Another take on this passage that tries to hold on to the witness of other parts of Scripture is that this passage is describing a non-sensical if-then statement. If a person were to fall away then for them to repent and come back would mean Christ is recrucified. But Christ can’t be recrucified. Hebrews itself has already talked of Christ’s once for all sacrifice and how his death on the cross was completely sufficient. If that is the case, and he’s now been raised from the dead, how could he and why would he be crucified again? So if Christ can’t be recrucified, such as it is an impossibility, then the circumstances that would lead to it are also an impossibility. If Christ has died for your sins then you would never have need for him to return to the cross again. If you’ve been redeemed, then you can’t reverse the process and this is in fact an argument against the mere possibility of falling away.

Those are some of the interpretations out there. Again, some just read it as though you can lose your salvation. But I don’t believe that God’s plans can be foiled. If he has chosen you and me, then he has the power keep us in his grasp. I wish I had a plainly obvious way of reading this that would just click. We must read Scripture in light of other scripture which can make things complicated But I believe the greater theme is that of God’s sovereignty.

What I do try to take away is a challenge to remain vigilant. We ought to keep ourselves committed to Christ and to following after his call. We need to be ever vigilant, while also resting confidently in the security that the work of our salvation is thankfully a work wholly of God.

Job’s boldness to cry out “my Redeemer lives”

Job 19 includes what are probably the most familiar lines from the whole book. Verse 25 says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” It is a powerful line and in it we see the hope, similar to what I wrote last week, of Christ. But it is all the more powerful given the context. Job boldly says that he does have a redeemer. He says this redeemer lives and this redeemer is spoken of in relation to Job one day seeing God. But all this he says in his dire circumstances. Earlier in the chapter Job has said this:

All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?

Life has been bitter to Job. He has called out hoping to meet death, wishing the day on which he was born was taken from history. The ones who should be close seem far, the ones who should love hate, and Job says even children despise him. Yet even as his world seems to crumble Job is able to find the strength to say, perhaps the strength to believe, that there truly is a redeemer. He does not let his circumstance dictate truth. God is God even when life is painful. We have hope even when there seems to be no hope for us. Even in the midst of sin and death we have one who redeems us from such slavery and who will usher us into the presence of God.

Are Job’s friends right or wrong?

As we continue to read into Job we have the problem of what to make of the words of Job’s three friends. It seems at times that their words are true and their conclusions right. They talk of the punishment that comes upon the wicked, but they then relate this to Job’s situation, and there it falls apart. The picture we are shown is one in which Job is innocent and that the distress that has come upon him is not a direct punishment for something he has done. So are his friends right or wrong?

It is a little more complex and a word that has helped me in reading it is “appropriate.” Whether one of the friends speaks something that is true, is it also an appropriate statement to make? Is it fitting to the situation and applicable for Job? I felt torn wanting to quote some of these friends when I came across some powerful verses knowing that they’re not quite in the right in their speech. Would I be quoting them out of context?

Again it is good to remember just because someone says something in the Bible doesn’t mean it is “biblical.” Characters from the Bible are not always the examples we remember them to be and the wisdom of Job’s wise friends is not always good. But there are instances where even the naive speak great truth without even knowing it. So ultimately, these three may say some insightful things, but use discernment in judging their words. The only one who is without fault in speech is God, who we’ll get to at the end.

The Despair of Job is Now a Hope We Have In Jesus

If you follow along with the focus passages that are available each week, then perhaps by now you’ve already looked closely at a passage from Job 9. If not, there is a section in the book of Job where Job complains. In fact–there are many such sections. But in this one part specifically Job cries out about his own inability to come before God and defend himself. He doesn’t believe that he could stand up to the bigness of God and prove himself innocent. Humans are nothing in comparison to the majesty of a God who forms mountains and places the stars into constellations. Recognizing this Job says:

There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both.

The good news we have in the New Testament is that we know such an arbiter. We know that Jesus Christ is the one who, being both fully God and fully human, is able to perfectly represent us before the Father. He intercedes for us and he is the one who has made us innocent. We can have hope to enter boldly into God’s presence because of the all-sufficient work of Jesus.

Hebrews goes into the priestly work of Jesus and how he has done everything we need, and emphasizes how what he has done is so much greater than anything that has gone before. Jesus is a greater priest than the priests of old. Jesus is greater than angels and greater than Moses. Jesus while still being the priest is also the sacrifice, and again is a greater sacrifice. What Christ has done for us has once and for all paid the price for our sin and has made us right before God.

In Jesus Christ the plea of Job comes to be fulfilled and we can rejoice now knowing such good news. The suffering of Job continues into our day, but we know that our God entered into such suffering, taking on more than we ever could in bearing our sins, and in so doing has secured salvation for us.

The need for encouragement for Job and for us all

Job chapter 4 begins with Eliphaz speaking to Job about an apparent contradiction. Job has been able to comfort and strengthen others but it seems to me that Eliphaz is saying if your words could uphold others, why are you having such difficulties? If you believe something enough to share it with another, are you believing it for yourself? Don’t you have confidence and hope?

Behold, you have instructed many,
and you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have upheld him who was stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
Job 4:3-6

It is a difficult thing to be able to pull yourself out of such hardships and misery such as Job is facing. He could with complete sincerity offer words of encouragement to others, but now is a time that he may be reliant on others to take that role for his sake. Job needs his friends to be a source of strength, but instead Eliphaz questions.

I am reminded of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the need for community and the ability of others to speak truth and be a strength for us, especially since we cannot do it alone.

But God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Even if we are often the “strong” one for someone else, publicly seen as comforters and encouragers, that doesn’t mean that we still do not need the word of Christ from brothers and sisters in the faith. We are all called to proclaim Christ and we are all people who need to hear it not only in our own heart, but in the voice of another. No one is so mature a Christian that they are above being encouraged by the words of the gospel. No one is perfect, no one is strong enough. So be open to those chances in which you can be that bearer of Christ to someone who may really need it, and be open to hearing Christ in others.