NOTES on Hebrews
3:1-6 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews has just finished a detailed discussion about how God brought "many sons to glory" by means of Jesus becoming human and suffering. Jesus, the writer tells us, had to be made like we are in every way "in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God" (2:17) Jesus can help us because he has been tempted and suffered. Because he died as a human and rose from the dead, he has destroyed the devil and freed us from the fear of death. (see 2:14,15)
"Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix you thoughts on Jesus" the author says.
Because Jesus became human, suffered, died, and rose again, we who believe in him are being brought to glory. Because we accept Jesus' death for our sins, we are in his eyes his "holy brothers". We are made holy by his holiness and mercy. His death has taken care of all our sins.
"He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit," Paul says in Titus 3:5-7, "whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."
The Heavenly Calling
As Jesus' holy brothers, we "share in the heavenly calling." The heavenly calling involves many things. First, we are called "according to his purpose". (Romans 8:28) We are also called to be justified and glorified, and we belong to God irrevocably. (Romans 8:30; 11:29)
Further, we are called by grace to come out from under the law (Galatians 1:6) and to enter into fellowship with Jesus. (1 Cor. 1:9) As we begin to live in relationship with Jesus, we are called to live a holy life. (1 Tim. 1:9)
Besides God's setting us apart-making us holy-for living holy lives by his grace and living in fellowship with him, he also calls us to his kingdom and to glory. (1 Thess. 2:12) We have an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15), and Peter assures us that our calling and election are sure, that we are called to be part of the eternal kingdom. (2 Peter 1:10)
Our heavenly calling is secure in our one hope: Jesus. God predestined us to be his sons, (Eph. 1:5), and he is bringing everything together under Christ. (Eph. 1:10).
Paul expresses the pinnacle of our heavenly calling: "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:6-7)
For eternity-"in the coming ages"-we will be seated with Christ "in the heavenly realms". Beginning now, our salvation will forever testify to the grace of God and his kindness to us in becoming incarnate and redeeming our sin-full spirits and bodies.
Apostle and Priest
"Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess," verse 1 continues.
An apostle is "one who is sent". Jesus often said his father sent him to this world. God sent Jesus, the first and ultimate apostle, to bring, literally, God to this world that did not know him. God sent Jesus on the ultimate mission: to redeem our lives with his life and to redeem us from sin and death by dying and rising again. All subsequent apostleships flow from Jesus, the original, ultimate apostle.
Besides being an apostle, Jesus is our high priest. In the Old Covenant, the high priest was the only person who ever entered the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle or temple. Only the high priest was sanctified-set apart-for entering the place where God's presence dwelled. No one else, not even the priests, could come before the glory of the presence of God and live.
Even the high priest was not allowed to go into the Most Holy whenever he might wish. He could only go in once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and then he could only go in bearing the blood of a sacrifice. If he had dared to enter without the blood, he would have been killed. The high priest's job was to present the blood of the sacrifice to God on behalf of the entire camp of Israel for the atonement of their sins.
Throughout the year the people brought their sin offerings and thank offerings to the temple for the priests to offer in their behalf. The sacrifices of Israel accumulated, figuratively, in the temple throughout the year. On one day each year, the high priest took sacrificial blood before the actual presence of God for the forgiveness of all the sins of Israel during the preceding year.
The high priest also sacrificed a goat for a sin offering on the Day of Atonement. In addition, after taking the blood of the burnt offering and the sin offering into the most holy place, he laid his hands on the head of a second goat. He confessed the sins of Israel over the head of the goat and sent it into the desert. "The scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement" (Leviticus 16:10)
When the high priest completed his yearly atonement rituals, the camp was clean from sin. The sins of Israel, however, were not permanently forgiven. Every time an Israelite did wrong, he had to atone for his/her misdeed with a sacrifice. The sacrifices represented the Savior which Israel knew would come, but the sacrifices were only representative of true atonement. They could not actually blot out sin.
Jesus, Hebrews tells us, is now our high priest. He is greater than Moses, the person God entrusted with instituting the Old Covenant. Jesus is mediating the New Covenant, and he has made the true sacrifice for sin. He is God, and he became human and shed his blood in a supreme sacrifice that truly atoned for sin for all time, past and future. Jesus was the true sin offering, dying to fulfill the requirement of sin. Jesus was the scapegoat, bearing the sins of humanity outside the city gates. Jesus is the high priest, presenting his own blood before God as an offering for all sin. And because his blood is the perfect atonement, he never leaves the presence of God as the Israelite high priest had to leave. Jesus has destroyed the barrier of sin that separated humanity from God. As our high priest, both God and glorified human, he sits at the right hand of God. As forgiven sons of God, we, in him, also sit in the presence of God. (Eph. 2:6)
Jesus and Moses
God appointed Moses to lead his people Israel out of slavery into the Promised Land. The clause "Moses was faithful in all God's house" connotes a person who is a high official in the kingdom of God. God's house, in this context, was the people of Israel.
Jesus, Hebrews says, "has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses."
Moses was sent to free Israel from the bondage of slavery in pagan Egypt. Jesus was sent to bring freedom to the whole world-freedom from slavery to sin.
Moses led Israel from a miserable life toward the Promised Land, but before they could enter the Promised Land, they had to wander 40 years in the desert. The desert seemed infinitely worse to the Israelites than Egypt.
Jesus leads us from the bondage of spiritual death to restored life in him. But, like Israel, when Jesus begins to wake us up to our true condition, we often find ourselves struggling while God clarifies to us the reasons we need him.
Moses was to lead Israel into a land of rest where they would no longer be slaves but would be a nation honored by God. But even though the promise to Israel was a promise of rest and honor, the reality was that they could not live up to God's requirements for them. They never fully realized the fulfillment of those promises. Moses could not lead Israel into spiritual rebirth.
Jesus leads us not into a land but into a relationship. The rest He promises us is rest from our work. He promises to restore us to himself-to spiritual life-by his own sacrifice. Israel was required to obey the law in order to experience God's pleasure. We are required to accept Jesus' sacrifice for us in order to experience rest in Him.
Greater than Moses
Jesus is "worthy of greater honor than Moses," the author of Hebrews says. Moses was a servant in God's house, a created being, a member of God's house. God appointed him to mediate the Old Covenant to the nation of Israel.
Jesus is the creator of God's house. Jesus, as creator, is God. He is the New Covenant, not merely a mediator of a covenant between God and humanity. Jesus himself keeps the covenant with God. The New Covenant does not depend upon any human participation. Jesus fulfilled all its requirements.
The covenant Moses presented to Israel taught God's people about the coming Messiah. It revealed to them their sinfulness and their need of a Messiah. When Moses taught the Israelites the conditions and requirements of the Old Covenant, he was telling them in symbolic terms about Jesus' coming and dying to redeem them. Every part of the Old Covenant pointed to Jesus. Each symbol and ceremony represented Jesus and his saving sacrifice and grace. By teaching Israel the Old Covenant, Moses was "testifying to what would be said in the future."
Moses was a trusted servant given honor and leadership IN the community of God's people. Jesus, on the other hand, is a son OVER God's house. Servants, though honored and trusted, do not share family ties with the master. They may be "like" family, but they do not share the inheritance of the master.
Sons are members of the master's family. The master is the son's father, and the son inherits all that the father has. Sons are not members of the household staff. Sons rule OVER the household, and they represent the father.
We, as sons of God whom God is bringing to glory, also share in Jesus' inheritance. Only a Son-God-could grant us the rights of sons. A servant could never become or lead others to become sons.
Moses was great, and he was God's appointed leader for Israel. But Jesus is greater. He is actually God, and he is head over all God's house. The covenant Jesus keeps is as much greater than the covenant Moses administered as Jesus is greater than Moses.
Members of God's House
As Christians we are members of God's house. "And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast," the author of Hebrews says.
Like the parable in Matthew 13 that tells of the seeds that fell on rocky soil, if a person claims to profess Christ but does not persevere in living with Jesus, allowing him to direct his or her life, that person is not really a child of God. A truly born-again person will have a life that bears fruit.
An "on fire" new believer is a wonderful thing. But the call of God is that we grow and live with him for the rest of our lives. He calls us to trust him with every part of us.
God doesn't regenerate us and then leave us on our own to grow or fade away. When we truly accept him with not only our intellects but also with our hearts, he gives us a new heart. He makes us new people. He seals us with his Holy Spirit, and he seeks to become the master over our lives.
God's mastery, however, is the only true freedom we have. Before we are reborn, we are slaves to sin, spiritually dead, unable to change or love or choose God. When God touches us, however, we become alive. Even though we learn to honor God's sovereignty in our lives, his perfect love gives our souls rest. The paradox of being in love with Jesus is that the more we allow him to direct and influence our decisions and reactions, the more freedom we experience.
Trusting Jesus releases us from shame and the fear of failure. No matter what we may do, he loves us. He wastes nothing in our lives, and he redeems everything we submit to him.
Loving Jesus is a paradox. On the one hand, as we meet the Lord of our lives, our Creator and Savior, we realize profoundly how big, sovereign, and transcendent he is. No mere god could destroy the fear of death and grant us eternal life. No mere god could lift our shame and guilt and fear and replace them with security and love. No one but a God we cannot comprehend could become human, redeem us, and still be God. No one but a God we cannot understand could hate evil but save us while we are still bound by it. Before such a God we feel reverence, awe, and gratitude. We begin to see that he is a God of justice, and we worship him for rescuing us from his wrath. We realize how insignificant we are compared to him and the rest of creation, and we are overwhelmed that he would notice us.
On the other hand, loving Jesus is the most intimate relationship we'll ever have. He seals his salvation of us by pouring out his Holy Spirit on us. The Spirit of God actually lives in us as proof that we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. He remakes our hard and fearful hearts. He fills us with love, and we experience joy and peace that are different from anything we ever experienced before. His love fills all the cracks we desperately held together to keep our hearts from breaking. He transforms us into people who desire to love instead of people who demand love. He gives us eternal life, and the Holy Spirit in us connects us to eternity while our bodies are still in time. God takes pleasure in us, and his pleasure becomes our pleasure.
Loving Jesus is simultaneously transcendent and intimate. We perceive his power and majesty and unreachable-ness and we worship him, and at the same time we are overwhelmed with his tenderness and his intimate "knowing" of us. And God expects us to honor and praise him for both ends of this spectrum of his relationship with us.
Jesus is greater than Moses. Moses taught Israel how the lives of God's people should look. He also taught them to trust their coming Savior and to find his promises in their rituals. But Jesus instituted a new era. Jesus fulfilled Moses. Now we not only know how the lives of God's people should look, we also know how God saves his people and how he takes responsibility for teaching them internally by his Spirit instead of externally by a written law.
God calls us to hold on to our courage to live this astonishing new life in him in the face of disbelief and scoffing. He calls us to hold on to our hope in him. Jesus knew that others would doubt our experience with him, and he knew we would doubt it ourselves sometimes. He reassures us, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:20)
God calls us to fix our thoughts on Jesus. He calls us to accept and embrace his love and his discipline of us. He calls us to let go of our habitual rationalizing and let God be sovereign in our lives. He calls us to admit and experience our guilt and shame and let Jesus transform them with his sacrifice and grace. He calls us to release our habitual control and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds with love, assurance, and direction.
God calls us to a relationship with him. He calls us to honor him. And he calls us to live in love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 26, 2000.