I thought I might archive my notes and scribbles from the annual NAPS meeting I attended last week. I suspect anybody foolish enough to glance at these will find them largely illegible. Ha! Regardless:
1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Literature is replete with examples of broken, flawed priests, pastors, and ministers. A few examples come to mind. Think of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Set in 1930s Mexico and the brutal persecution of the Catholic Church there, the story is about a deeply flawed unnamed priest that Graham calls a whisky priest because of his alcoholism. Even so, this priest is paradoxically the only priest who has not sold out and capitulated and taken a wife in order to avoid persecution. He is deeply flawed yet also struggling to be faithful. I think of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, which was influenced, as it turns out, by Greene and The Power and the Glory. There, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary priest is brutalized and persecuted alongside Japanese Christians in that country, finally officially renouncing his faith and yet seeking to hold on to the vestiges of it until the end. I think of Preacher Casey in The Grapes of Wrath who tells Tom Joad about how his hypocritical womanizing after preaching Jesus finally led him to conclude that sin does not even exist. And I think of America’s most notorious literary example of a deeply flawed, hypocritical preacher, Elmer Gantry, whose name has become a byword for all charlatan preachers.
And this barely scratches the surface. Time and time again one can find in our books and movies and television shows depictions of deeply broken priests and pastors. And these depictions inevitably demonstrate two very important truths: (1) human ministers are imperfect and (2) our hearts yearn for a perfect high priest. In fact, our very outrage at imperfect and hypocritical ministers reveals our great desire for and expectation of a high priest who is not imperfect and hypocritical. We grieve and rage over fallen ministers because we know our souls need a minister who is not fallen, who is not a hypocrite, who is not a charlatan.
And it is at this point that Hebrews 5 speaks deeply to our souls, for Hebrews 5 tells us that while, yes, earthly ministers are imperfect, we do have a perfect minister, a perfect priest, who has accomplished for us what no merely earthly priest could.
Theologian James Leo Garrett points out that “numerous theologians have utilized as an organizing pattern the ‘threefold office’ (munus triplex) of Christ, namely, as Prophet, Priest, and King. The concept of the threefold office is traceable to Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-c.339), but the Protestant Reformers made its usage commonplace.” Today we are going to begin unpacking the second element of the munus triplex: Christ the Priest.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
A July 10, 1920 New York Times headline cannot help but grab the attention. It reads, “PARES OFF HIS FLESH, GRAFTS IT ON WIFE; Chicago surgeon Avert Amputation of His Bride’s Leg by heroic Operation. TAKES NO ANESTHETIC Former Captain Overseas Shaves Off Cuticle with Razor—“Took Nerve,” He Admits.”
What on earth? Jimmy Draper explains:
The story of Dr. Orlando P. Scott may help us to see how our Lord enters into our suffering. In the year 1919, he was the doctor on duty in a hospital where his wife was a patient. She had been involved in a tragic accident. While he was the only available physician, she needed immediate skin grafting to save her life. Without anesthesia, he stood and cut flesh from his own body to graft it into the body of his wife. He did so without noticeable pain because he was under an anesthesia from above. He was under the power of love, and he suffered with her as he operated under the anesthesia of love.
It is a fascinating and arresting story. Think of the dynamics at work here: a person in authority is moved by deep love and compassion to heal somebody at their point of greatest need and brokenness through an act of painful self-sacrificial love.
There is something very gospel about that, is there not?
Theodore of Cyr, the 5th century theologian and bishop of Cyr, wrote of our text:
The believers at that time were subjected to constant billowing by trials; so he consoles them by bringing out that our high priest not only knows as God the weakness of our nature but also as man had experience of our sufferings, remaining unfamiliar with sin alone. Understanding this weakness of ours, he is saying, he both extends us appropriate help and when judging us he will take our weakness into account in delivering sentence.
Let us dive into this profound and beautiful truth of the love of God in Christ.
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
In 1970 the late Russian dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered his lecture after winning the Nobel Prize in literature. Near the end of the lecture Solzhenitsyn said, “And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions!” He the approached the conclusion of his lecture by quoting a Russian proverb: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
That is a fascinating statement, isn’t it? “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
Indeed, words of truth have weight. But the two verses we are about to consider are going to say more than this. They are going to say not only that words have weight, but that the Word, the word of God, actually has life…and power…and can dismantle…and can search…and can heal.
It is important that we not detach these two amazing verses from the wider context of Hebrews. We have seen, especially in chapters 3 and 4, repeated warnings against ignoring the word of God. We have been told that those Israelites who ignored the word of God in the wilderness fell under judgment. We have been told that those who did not cling to the word in the land of promise fell under judgment. And we have been cautioned again and again and again not to harden our hearts, not to commit the same mistake, but rather to hear and listen and receive what God is saying so that we can live and have life!
So these two verses follow with utter consistency from what precedes them: we must understand that the word of God is not like human words. The word of God is not some passive thing we can take or leave. Rather, it is living, it is life.
We dare not turn from the word!
Grant Osborne, like many others, has argued that the “word” in our text is referring to the scriptures in particular.
These verses provide proper closure to this first major section of the letter, for throughout the letter thus far, the author’s narration has centered on Old Testament citations that provide the background for his argumentation. He wants the readers to realize what this signifies, for it is the word of God, and not just human thoughts, that have been quoted.
Yes, all of the verses that the writer has appealed to cement the point: God has spoken in His word and we must heed what he has said there. Let us consider carefully what our text says about the word of God.
1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
I think it is very possible that we have misunderstood one of the most famous verses of the Bible. I am speaking of Matthew 11:28. This will sound familiar to many of you:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
I say I think we may have misunderstood this because most times this is spoken of in terms of Jesus giving rest to tired people, Jesus giving respite to weary people. The problem is not that that is wrong. The problem is that that is not enough. In reality, the “rest” about which Jesus speaks is much more than that. In fact, as we will see in Hebrews 4, it actually means “salvation.” Christ will give us the eternal rest of the Kingdom, the eternal rest of His presence.
In the early church, the fathers spoke of there being “three rests,” and they used our text as one of the texts to justify this. For instance, John Chrysostom said:
He says that there are “three” rests: one, that of the sabbath, in which God rested from works; the second, that of Palestine, in which, when the Jews had entered, they would be at rest from their hardships and labors; the third, that which is rest indeed, the kingdom of heaven, where those who obtain it do indeed rest from their labors and troubles.
That seems clear enough. The church father Theodore of Cyr was even more succinct about the three rests:
…first, the seventh day…second, the land of promise; and third, the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, there are three rests: sabbath, promised land, and the Kingdom of Heaven. This means that the first two rests are preparatory for and types of the greater rests the surpasses them. In other words, Jesus offers something than neither the sabbath nor entry into the promised land could offer, as Hebrews 4 will bear out.
I want us to talk about the rest that Jesus offers. We need to listen and listen very closely to how Hebrews 4 unpacks this important issue. We will approach it by considering two main ideas that emerge from this passage.
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
A few years back Penguin publishers published Cory Arcangel’s book, Working on My Novel. The book is simply a collection of tweets from various people that include the phrase “working on my novel” (with, oddly enough, drawings of kettles interspersed throughout). Arcangel, the compiler, said of the book that it
is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it’s the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.
But Dan Piepenbring, a reviewer for The Paris Review, calls it instead “a sad monument to distraction.” Piepenbring continues:
Arcangel suggests there’s something inherently ennobling in trying to write, but his book is an aggregate of delusion, narcissism, procrastination, boredom, self-congratulation, confusion—every stumbling block, in other words, between here and art. Working captures the worrisome extent to which creative writing has been synonymized with therapy; nearly everyone quoted in it pursues novel writing as a kind of exercise regimen. (“I love my mind,” writes one aspirant novelist…)
The reviewer then makes a devastating observation about these tweets:
But failure is seldom on the minds of these writers, except insofar as it stands, temporarily, between them and inevitable success. As of now, there are 675 of those would-be writers featured on the Twitter version of Working, and yet a rudimentary search shows that the word fail has been deployed exactly zero times. What prevails instead is a kind of Pollyannaish resilience…
In other words the collection of distracted tweets reveals a kind of optimistic naivete on the parts of those who tweeted that there would in fact be time to finish their novels, that there is nothing a bit pitiful about so many comments about doing something one could not be actively doing while commenting on it, and that there was no worse-case scenario where their delays and distractions could result in the, to them, unthinkable: failure.
The scriptures take a decidedly more realistic view. They discourage us from speaking much of tomorrow or of later. They encourage us to make the most important decision—the decision to come to God—now. And they paint a rather chilling picture of the terrible consequences of waiting too long. The latter half of Hebrews 3 paints just such a picture, though, as we will see, the picture it paints is supported by numerous other texts.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Michael Card once wrote a song about Simon Peter that I find beautiful and moving. Here is how the song begins:
You bore the burden of a name
Along a road that would lead to the cross
Bold and broken, upside-down
A light for the least and the lost
He called you the rock, the foundation
Of a temple formed from God’s love
His robe of forgiveness wrapping you up
Meant trusting in Him was enough
His love called you out on the water
And held you when you were alone
For you were the rock that was
Broken by love, forever the fragile stone
I like that a lot. The image of Peter as “the fragile stone” is a good one, and an accurate one. Card is drawing from our passage by using this image. In Matthew 16 Peter demonstrates that he is (a) a rock, a stone and also (b) that he is a fragile stone.
What I would like to do is focus on Jesus’ two responses to two things Peter says to Him in back-to-back episodes here in Matthew 16. In the first episode, Peter says something correct about the person of Jesus and is blessed. In the second Peter says something wrong about the work of Jesus and is condemned. Consider:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Here, Peter correctly proclaims that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus’ response to this proclamation is one of joy. More than that, He tells Peter of the great ministry that He, Jesus, has for Peter.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Here, Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from the cross, bluntly announcing that the event of the cross should not, must not, happen! Jesus’ response is one of sharp and devastating rebuke.
In the first episode Peter is in step with Jesus. In the second he is out of step with Jesus. Jesus’ response, then, is not merely to Peter but is also to all of us when we are either in step with or out of step with Jesus.
Just a note to let you know that audio (when available) and video of the Central Baptist Church Holy Week services can be found here.
“This volume of Garrett’s collected writings does not disappoint. In them, we again see the keen analysis of a theological giant, a historian who could see beyond clutter to essence, and within all his labor, lovingly seek the edification of his community of faith. This rich volume renews our appreciation for the mind, heart, and pen of Garrett and our gratitude to God for giving him to us.”
Jeffrey Bingham, School of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. 5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
“End of road for woman used by ‘pastors’ to perform fake miracles.”
That is the headline for an article that tells a very sad story of something that happened in in Nigeria. (Some of the translation in the article is a bit choppy.)
A 44-year-old woman, Mrs. Bose Olasukanmi who was used by several ‘fraudulent’ pastors to perform fake miracle has been arrested by operatives of the Inspector General of police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in Lagos after months of trail on her by the undercover operatives.
According to a source close to IRT, the suspect Olasukanmi used to relocate to another church after being paid for every successful performance so that their trick would not be exposed by people or relations who may see her in the drama.
Mrs. Olasukanmi was in an accident and has a broken arm that has never been set and has never healed properly. The false miracles were centered on the alleged healing of her arm. She was paid money to go up on the stages of various churches for the healing. Perhaps most tragic of all, this lady is not even a Christian.
“I am a moslem, but the pastor, prophet Goffrey Abbey would only ask me to bring my hand down and I will start bringing it down as if his power was the thing bringing it down and be jumping up in joy to the deceit of the congregation who often clapped with joy and praising God for the miracle. I cannot remember the names of all the churches she took me to because their names were not disclosed to me.”
This is simply tragic. These pastors were using a Muslim woman to deceive the people of God and enrich themselves. The woman offers some interesting closing comments:
“My only regret is that I knew that it was a fake miracle performance, which deceived many genuine children of God and enriched the fake miracle performing pastors and prophets…”
“My advice to people who go to church is that they should open their eyes well and know the type of church they are worshipping. If they are careful, they would discover on time whether they are in a genuine church or with fake pastors and prophets.”
It is a fascinating and troubling thing that a non-Christian woman would have to warn Christians about false prophets, but she is, of course, 100% correct.
There is something within human beings that desperately wants to see signs, wonders, miracles, and displays of power. This desire to see wonders can lay the groundwork for some truly pernicious things, as the article just quoted demonstrates. Of course, sometimes the motives behind these kinds of desires are good: a genuine desire for healing or for appropriate blessing. But sometimes they are not good: a desire to test God, a desire to be rich, a desire to have our curiosity satiated.
Matthew 16 begins with men who want to see a sign. It is abundantly clear from the get-go, however, that their motives were not pure!