Archive for July, 2016

The Son Is God’s Final Word

Hebrews 1.1-2 [widescreen]

Hebrews 1:1–4 (NRSV)  Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The letter to the Hebrews is unlike the many other letters in the NT, as there is no greeting that identifies the author or the audience.  There is no greeting, no blessing, and no prayer of thanksgiving.  Instead, the author begins with a sentence introduction (vv. 1-4) that introduces the main theme of the letter.  Most scholars believe that Hebrews was not originally written as a letter, but as a sermon.

The book of Hebrews is anonymous (as are the Gospels and many of the OT books).  Since the earliest centuries, the authorship of the book of Hebrews has been debated.  The book was included in the Bible as it circulated with Paul’s letters, so some early church fathers argued that Paul was the author (Origen and Clement of Alexandria).  However, almost all modern scholars agree that Paul was not the author.  One key piece of evidence is that the author describes himself as one of the original witnesses who followed Christ (2:3).  Secondly, the language and style are quite different from Paul’s letters.  Many suggestions have been made as to the author.  Martin Luther suggested Apollos.  However, all such suggestions are merely speculation.

The message seems to have been written to Rome, sending greetings from the Roman Christians who had traveled abroad.  (Heb. 13:24)  Those he addressed in the message seem to have had a Jewish background, so his audience appears to be Jewish Christians as opposed to Gentile Christians.

The occasion for the letter seems to be persecution that the Hebrews are enduring that has caused some to fall away, and others to doubt.  (Heb. 10:32-39)  The author’s purpose in writing is to encourage the struggling Hebrew community to maintain their commitment in this persecution.   If these are Roman Christians to whom the authori is writing, the occasion may have been the persecution of Christians under Nero in the mid-60’s.

In the Greek, verses 1-4 are one eloquent sentence that introduces the main theme of the message of Hebrews:  The Superiority of the Son.  The author begins with a statement concerning the revelation of God.  In the OT, God spoke through the prophets (Nevi’im).  In the English Bible, we consider the prophets to be only the books of Isaiah through Malachi.  However, in the Hebrew Bible, Moses was considered a prophet (the Torah, the first five books of the OT), and included in the former prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.  The Latter Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (the minor prophets, Hosea to Malachi).

The author says that in the OT, God revealed himself to particular people at particular times in history, and the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation.  God revealed himself first to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Noah, then to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the prophets.  God revealed himself through dreams, visions, mighty acts, stories, commands, exhortations, angelic appearances, and even divine appearances.  The prophets were all those to whom God gave his revelation.  (2 Peter 1:19-21)

But now, God has revealed himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.  He is the final and ultimate revelation of the Father.  (Heb. 2:3, 4)  We have no need of any other or further revelation of God.  And in fact, all further revelations are false, and should be seen as so.  In Christ, “God’s own glory” is revealed.  (v. 3)  The glory of the Son is the same as the glory of the Father and is an expression of God’s own glory, because the Son is God.  (John 1:14)  The gives a clear picture of the very character of God (John 1:18).

And when Christ had finished his work of redemption, “he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.”  God the Son’s exaltation is demonstrated in that he sits at the right hand of God.  And as God’s royal heir, the Son will receive everything as an inheritance (v. 2).  The Son’s exalted position is superior to every created being in the universe, even the angels, just as the name of the Son is greater than that of created beings (v. 4).  (Phil. 2:9)

Lord, I praise your name.  “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Phil. 2:9, 10)  Even so Lord Jesus, come!  Maranatha!  Amen.

 

Respect for Government Leaders

 

Titus 3_1_2

Titus 3:1–7 (NRSV)  Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul’s final exhortation to Titus is to remind the church “to submit to the government.”  Paul has previously sent similar exhortations to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:1-7) and to the church in Rome (Rom. 13:1-7), similarly Peter wrote about the same topic.  (1 Peter 2:13-17)  These teachings by Paul and Peter may have their roots in Christ’s own teaching on how we should live as citizens and Christians (Matt. 22:17-21; Luke 20:25).  A fully developed teaching of Christian citizenship should take into account all these Scriptures.

In these verses, Paul reminds not only to submit to the governing authorities and to obey them, but also “to be ready for every good work,” (v. 1) and “to speak evil of no one” (v. 2).  One of the behaviors that I have noticed in recent years is the lack of civility in conversation about our president and our leaders both in the church and in society.  As Christians, Paul says, it is a sin to speak evil of our leaders.  And if you claim, well, it’s okay because they are not Christian leaders, remember who Paul was speaking about:  Nero!  Nero was one of the greatest persecutors of Christians of all the Emperors.  It is likely that both Peter and Paul were executed during the persecution begun by Nero.

We can disagree with our leaders, both church leaders and government leaders without being disrespectful.  I’m firmly convinced that much of the opposition to President Obama has its roots in prejudice.  And as shameful as it is to speak, many of those who have said horrible things about the president are those who would consider themselves Christians.  Paul’s command:  Don’t speak evil of anyone.  My grandmother’s admonition is still as good today as it was when I was a boy.  If you can’t say something good about someone, it’s better to say nothing at all.

Paul’s final words should govern all our social media:  Show respect for everyone.  Respect is one of the values that I learned serving in the US Army for almost 30 years.  Respect is a core value of the US Army.  You can show respect even when you disagree with people by how you speak to them.  Our current presidential campaign demonstrates the complete opposite:  disrespect.  It seems that the only way one can speak about one’s political opponents is to call them names and denigrate them, as if name calling and disrespect make one a viable candidate.  We haven’t even had a serious discussion of the issues to this date, because the entire campaign has been focused on this negativity.

But as Christians, we don’t have a choice.  Disrespect of our government leaders is a sin.  End of story.  Stop damaging your Christian witness online by the way you speak about our leaders.  Stop damaging your Christian witness with flaming e-mails.  It’s possible to disagree without disrespect.

Our Blessed Hope

Titus 213–14 [widescreen]

Titus 2:11–15 (NLT) For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

15 You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say.

In Titus ch. 2, Paul provides Titus with instructions on relationships in the church.  How should older men, older women, younger men, and slaves live the Christian life in a pagan culture?  He commands older men to exercise self-control to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely.  (v. 2)  He tells Titus to teach older women to live in a way that honors God.  (v. 3)  In the same way, he tells Titus to encourage the youg men to live wisely, and to be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.  (vv. 6, 7)

Why should Christians live wisely, the kind of life that reflects wholesome teaching?  (v . 1)  The rationale for right living is in vv. 11-14.  “For the grace of God has been revealed bringing salvation to all people.”   (v. 11)  Paul literally says, the grace of God has appeared, meaning Jesus Christ.

And Paul summarizes the teaching of Christ as “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  (v. 12)  Paul emphasizes the positive virtues:  wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  In the Greco-Roman world, these three virtues represent virtuous conduct in general.  These virtues counter the vices of the Cretans.

The adverb translated “sensibly” or “wisely” is sophronos, meaning soberly.  It suggests the exercise of self-restraint of all types of passion and desire, which enables the believer to be conformed to the mind of Christ.  Dikaios is the adverb translated “righteously” or “justly,…in accordance with what is right.”  God is righteous, so righteous behavior is that kind of behavior that is in accord with God’s will, especially God’s will as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  Eusebos is an adverb meaning “piously, or godly.”  (Vine)  To live a godly life is to live in a holy manner (2 Tim. 3:12)  Righteous and godly living renders to God the reverence and worship that comes from a holy life.

Paul sensibly tells Titus to instruct the church to live in a way that pleases God and even ungodly people would approve of this kind of living.  These three virtues were the same virtues that the Greek and Roman philosophers praised for the person who would live a wise life.  Likewise, these virtues are also praised in the Hebrew wisdom literature.  (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Eccles., and Song of Songs, also Book of Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Sirach)

For Christians, our blessed hope is “that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.”  (v. 13)  Christ’s epiphaneia, his appearing or manifestation, can refer to Christ’s first appearing, but Paul only uses this word to refer to Christ’s second and future appearance (2 Thes. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1).  (Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary)

We shouldn’t miss the fact that in this verse (v. 13), Jesus Christ is called God.  This is one of the few verses in the NT, where Christ is called God outrightly (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1).  Yet this claim is consistent with the roles and attributes of Christ and the worship that is given to him.

V. 14 summarizes the saving work of Christ:  “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”  We are no longer our own.  We have been redeemed from sin, bought with the blood of Christ.  We no longer are slaves to sin, but now are slaves or servants of righteousness.  Paul’s whole argument here is that we should live up to our calling, our blessed hope.  We should not live as we used to live, doing the sinful things we used to do.  But as citizens of heaven, we should live into the hope of eternal life.

Salvation produces a people who have the desire and capacity for good works.   Those who follow Christ are now God’s people.  As God’s people, the Holy Spirit leads us into keeping God’s covenant.  And this covenant is no longer written on stones, but the new covenant is written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  If you want to live a holy life, you should live in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit day by day and moment by moment, following the Spirit’s leading and teaching.

Lord, help me to live a life of total commitment to you.  Help me to walk in the way that you have called us to walk, as Christians, as the wise, not as we formerly used to walk, but with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.  Help me to live a wise, righteous and godly life through your Holy Spirit in me, the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.